STACS DNA delivers sample tracking solutions for forensics and healthcare that help laboratories, agencies and hospitals meet performance, transparency and legislative goals. We chat with Field Application Specialists Dr. Hays Young and Malena Jimenez to learn more about the benefits of STACS DNA and why every forensic DNA lab should consider their solutions.
STACS DNA offers software specifically targeted to forensic DNA labs. What are some of the challenges facing crime labs that STACS can eliminate or reduce?
Forensic DNA analysts often find themselves spending more time on routine tasks and documentation than on DNA processing. STACS eliminates a lot of the manual documentation with a convenient barcode system that tracks users, samples, batches, consumables and instruments to create an audit trail. This means that analysts can streamline their lab processing workflows, allowing them to be more productive.
What makes STACS DNA unique from its competitors?
Two key things make STACS DNA unique. First, we have been working with forensic DNA labs for 20 years and our products reflect a deep understanding of the DNA testing process. We stay on the leading edge of DNA developments and are working with clients on NGS solutions. Second is our customer service philosophy. We don’t sell software and say ‘good luck’. Our solutions are mature, fully configurable, and supported by a suite of services. We have done well over 100 customization projects and have a proven process. We work closely with our clients to deliver exactly what they need through customization, project management, training and ongoing support. We work closely with them to help make change management happen more smoothly.
Has the COVID19 pandemic had an impact on your work and has this shifted the company’s focus at all?
Since most of our clients are forensic and public health labs, they are considered essential services and have continued to work through the pandemic – and so have we. Our solutions have been critical as they help lab analysts and supervisors work from home to continue to process cases and be productive, even when they can’t be in the lab.
Hays, would you please tell us a bit more about what your role as Field Application Specialist with STACS DNA entails?
HY: I work closely with our current and prospective forensic DNA database lab clients to understand their workflows, pain points and how our solutions can be customized to meet their needs. This involves running demos for user groups, performing gap analyses, writing specifications for functionality that meets the needs of a specific lab, and providing end user training to ensure a successful implementation.
How does your previous experience with the Arkansas State Crime Lab benefit you in your current role?
HY: I was the DNA Technical Leader for the casework and databanking sections at the Arkansas State Crime Laboratory for almost nine years. This position gave me the unique opportunity to understand the casework and databanking laboratory workflows as well as diagnose, research and provide solutions for a variety of issues experienced by both sections. This knowledge is essential for being able to translate the needs of a laboratory to our developers so they can generate code that will make STACS perform as the laboratory expects it to. Having actual laboratory experience helps me understand the needs of the client and ensure those needs are met. I believe STACS DNA’s decision to have previous forensic scientists on the team is one of many reasons for the company’s success.
Malena, before you joined STACS DNA you were a Criminalist with the Missouri State Highway Patrol’s Crime Laboratory Division. How did STACS software benefit you in your previous role?
MJ: Prior to implementing STACS Casework, consumable tracking was performed using manual log entry, instrument maintenance was documented through manual log entry, and processing information was documented through manual log entry. The time to perform technical and administrative review was cut in half after implementing STACS Casework because there was no longer a need to validate—consumables had been quality control tested and had not expired, instruments had the appropriate maintenance performed and processing was documented correctly. All of these tasks were performed through the software and no longer required analyst time. STACS Casework allowed the analyst to shift their focus to profile interpretation as it removed the mundane task of checking log books and worksheets.
The Missouri State Highway Patrol has multiple DNA laboratories across the state. Implementing STACS Casework positively impacted the flow of information between the sites. Administrators could view caseloads amongst the sites and shift cases as needed. Analysts divided review between the sites, which prevented SOP drift and increased knowledge transfer throughout the system. This flow of information helped to maintain consistency in processing and reporting.
Providing information to external agencies and participating in internal or external audits also became a whole lot easier. There was little to no paper documentation needed. All information could be accessed electronically and sent to the audit team prior to the onsite assessment. During audits, the conference room was no longer stacked full of binders. Instead, it was one or two analysts showing the auditors how to pull information from STACS Casework or generating the required reports. For discovery requests, all processing information was automatically zipped into a compressed file, including CVs and SOPs. This transfer of data included internal management statistics as well. STACS Casework comes loaded with system stats reports, but the dynamic query builder allows the laboratory to further mine the data as needed to provide information quickly and efficiently.
STACS DNA also provides a tracking solution called Track-Kit. In simple terms, how does Track-Kit work?
Track-Kit is a web-based system for tracking kits or samples as they move from facility to facility to prevent delays and increase accountability. It can track any kind of sample. It’s used to track sexual assault kits in many states, providing unique portals for each type of user, including the survivor, medical facility, laboratory and law enforcement. Each user can track the kit through the testing process and receive notifications if deadlines are missed. Most importantly, Track-Kit empowers survivors, who were previously kept in the dark as to the status of their kit.
One of the features of Track-Kit for sexual assault kits is that survivors can also track their kit’s status and location. How are the survivor’s privacy concerns addressed or covered?
We worked with survivor advocate organizations to help guide our approach and ensure that anonymity and safety are top priorities for survivors accessing Track-Kit. After completing an exam at a medical facility, a sexual assault nurse examiner gives the survivor a unique access code that has no personal identification details. The survivor portal is unbranded to be discreet and can be quickly exited if needed. The system does not save any login information. The portal also includes local resources about sexual assault which can be delivered in the user’s language.
Lastly, which trends and technologies do you expect to see more of in the coming years?
There are a few notable trends and technologies on the horizon. I think we will keep moving towards trying to determine more and more information from minute amounts of DNA. Massive Parallel Sequencing will continue to improve and reduce in price, allowing it to have more wide-spread use. The forensic DNA community will also maintain an intense focus on mixture interpretation and how to reduce bias or errors.