We are excited to present the next NMS Intelligence podcast in our great series in collaboration with NMS Labs! Please let us know how you like it!
OUR GUEST Joanne Sgueglia, Forensic Biologist at NMS Labs, joined the show for the purpose of educating us on the Latest in DNA Toxicology. Specifically, we discuss the following with Joanne on this episode:
- What are some advantages of being in a private lab vs. government lab?
- Will you please explain some of the unique DNA service offerings at NMS Labs?
- NMS Labs recently moved the Forensic Biology Unit and opened a new DNA laboratory at the corporate headquarters in Pennsylvania. Will you please share the exciting details of some of the new advancements?
- What are some of the requirements for forensic biologists at NMS Labs to work with DNA?
- How does NMS Labs ensure Quality Assurance Standards for clients?
- Are there any DNA casework examples that you could share with our audience?
- What is your favorite part of your role with NMS labs?
Prior Episodes of NMS Intelligence
About Joanne Sgueglia
Prior to NMS Labs, Ms. Sgueglia was as Life Technologies/Thermo Fisher Scientific for over 5 years. The majority of the time she served as the Sr. Manager of Validation and Professional Services covering the US operations. Joanne also acted in a technical advisory role for the NA sales force as a Sr. Staff Scientist. She retired from the Massachusetts State Police Crime Laboratory System (MSPCLS) after a twelve year career that began in May 1999. She served as the Technical Manager of Forensic Biology with oversight of the Crime Scene Response, Criminalistics, DNA and CODIS Units for eight years. Thereafter, she performed the duties of a Forensic Research Scientist, overseeing the Quality Control, Research, Development and Training sections. This QRDT unit served as a scientific support section for the operational DNA units to maintain instrumentation and provide troubleshooting expertise, investigate and validate new technologies and coordinate trainings. She has served as the primary instructor in conducting in-house DNA academies for databasing and caseworking analysts. Ms. Sgueglia became a Special Projects Coordinator assisting the director with more global assignments in January, 2011. Assignments included participation in review of the Leahy legislation for forensic science reform, buccal collections for the CODIS convicted offender database and associated legislative revisions of Code of Massachusetts Regulations, investigation of the Lean Six Sigma process to improve productivity and partial matching/familial searching using DNA databases. Additional projects were geared toward improvement in communications via customer surveys and a lab wide newsletter. Ms. Sgueglia was actively involved in the FBI SWGDAM Subcommittee for Mixture Interpretations.
Prior to joining MSP, she was a Forensic Scientist at the Suffolk County Crime Laboratory located in Long Island, New York, for 7 years. Ms. Sgueglia performed DNA analyses using RFLP and STR technologies. She was the lead scientist responsible for STR validation, a participant of the FBI-STR standardization project, and instrumental in the identification of human remains from the TWA Flight 800 mass disaster. Her career in forensic DNA testing began in 1988 at Lifecodes Corporation in Valhalla, New York. Due to this diverse governmental and commercial background in the field, Joanne has processed cases from across the nation and provided testimony at criminal proceedings in 12 states. Ms. Sgueglia received her B.A. with Honors in Biology from the State University of New York, College at Purchase. She has graduate forensic training in Criminalistics, Forensic DNA Applications and mtDNA sequencing analysis from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, N.Y, FBI/University of Virginia, and George Mason University/Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, respectively.
About NMS Labs
NMS Labs brings you the innovative tests and services that meet the ever-changing world of drugs and diagnostics.
Developed under the direction of experts renowned throughout the medical, forensic and legal fields, NMS Labs provides a unique and impressive menu of more than 2,500 tests—all readily available to clients ranging from hospitals and universities to law enforcement, attorneys, and medical examiners. They turn to us for our expertise, service, and innovation they simply can’t find anywhere else.
In addition, NMS Labs…
- Has more than 200 highly trained technicians and 18 Ph.D. scientists and toxicologists on staff with decades of experience to help you
- Uses a world-class, full-service facility including a dedicated and secure crime laboratory to provide you with the finest testing services available
- Meets the rigorous standards of such industry organizations as ABFT, ASCLD/LAB-International ISO 17025, CAP ISO 15189, CAP-LAP and NYS DOH
Our adherence to rigorous accreditation and licensure programs reflects our commitment to improve patient safety, promote consistently excellent testing, and advance the quality of our work. It’s your assurance that our laboratory meets or exceeds the standards set by leaders in our fields. You can always test with us with confidence. Because the demands of the medical, forensic and legal fields evolve at an increasing pace all the time, we work hard to connect the needs of your world with that of the most innovative testing available in laboratory science. It’s why we’re always improving and expanding our test menu, capabilities, instrumentation and expertise. (from http://www.nmslabs.com/about-overview/)
Joe Lavelle: Welcome to NMS Intelligence, an exciting informative podcast series from NMS Labs. I am your host Joe Lavelle, and I am really looking forward to this conversation with another trailblazing innovator.
We’re going to get right to it today. We are joined by Joannie Sgueglia, Forensic Biologist at NMS Labs. Joannie, welcome to NMS Intelligence!
Joannie Sgueglia: Hey Joe. Thank you.
Joe Lavelle: Hey Joannie, will you take a couple minutes and tell the audience what you do as a Forensic Biologist at NMS Labs?
Joannie Sgueglia: Sure. I’m a Forensic Biologist 4. That’s a senior forensic biologist at NMS Labs in the DNA Unit. I generally will write and review reports for North Carolina. I’m actually a remote employee living in Carolina Beach, North Carolina with the intent to be a liaison for the North Carolina law enforcement agencies and other clients.
In addition to that, we’ve been going through an expansion. So the last year and a half or so, I’ve been instrumental in working on 15 different workflows for the DNA Unit to validate our instrument kits and software so we can offer all different types of chemistries whether they come from the Promega manufacturer or Thermo Fisher Scientific to all our clients because of what platform they work with.
Joe Lavelle: Thanks so much for that Joannie. I’m so excited to be discussing DNA today. Let’s get started with this. What are some of the advantages of being a private lab versus a government lab?
Joannie Sgueglia: That’s a great question. One of the things that is often brought up by the defense and folks when you work in a government lab is that you have some sort of bias in the sense that you work directly for a law enforcement agency.
Working in a private lab is beneficial in the sense that we’re truly neutral. We take cases from either the prosecution, defense, local law enforcement, et cetera.
So it helps to negate the biasness that people may say about different forensic biologists in working for a police agency. So we’re really just dedicated to providing the factual information that’s provided exclusively by the results of the DNA profiling. So that’s one big plus.
In addition to that, the fact that we’re not in an all-service laboratory, like a crime laboratory per se is we’re not always privy to all the results of the testing that’s normally done in a full service crime lab.
For example, we don’t necessarily know the results that might happen from a trace or hair exam or let’s say we’re getting DNA from a gun. We may not have the information and we don’t need that additional information that may come from the ballistic or firearms section. So in that sense, we’re not as biased in the sense where we don’t have information that’s not needed to do our job.
Joe Lavelle: Perfect. Could you explain some of the unique DNA service offerings at NMS Labs?
Joannie Sgueglia: Sure. We do some of the standard services, which generally would be the Autosomal STR Typing. That’s the technology that’s used today in order to get DNA profiling. We also offer Y-STR Typing. Not every lab has Y-STR Typing. It has been around for some time. But we do offer that and for laboratories that can’t do that themselves and we also work on things like human remains identification, bones and teeth and things like that that some labs may not do. But those are pretty routine type services that we offer. Some of the things that labs don’t normally do that we may have is we have our own vacuum swabbing technique and we can collect evidence off different items of clothing and so forth with a vacuum swabbing that works very well.
We also have a partnership with a state laboratory to be able to have profiles uploaded into CODIS. So if we are to get a CODIS-eligible profile from the evidentiary sample and not have a suspect to compare it to, we can have – obviously as a private lab, one of the disadvantages is we are not a CODIS laboratory. But we can, through these other state laboratories, get profiles into CODIS and as I before mentioned, we routinely test challenging samples, bones, unidentified remains. One of the things that many labs may not do depending on their state laws, et cetera, is kinship testing. So we do parentage, sibling, half-sibling type testing and things like that.
Additionally, we offer local databasing opportunities. We have our own database called Small Pond and that may be something we have local law enforcement agencies that in a sense, almost want to do their own little mini CODIS databasing projects. So we will take samples from property crimes and be able to put them into a database.
Additionally we’ve just developed a relationship with cyber-genetics for true allele analysis whereby we can offer probabilistic genotyping. Should someone have a difficult sample, a very complex mixture, we can go ahead and test that.
So generally, our process – and we also run all of our processes through our LIMS system and in that sense, we minimize paper trails, transcription errors. We have a very seamless tracking of QC, of our samples and reagents. The results, the review process is done in LIMS and the final reporting is also done in LIMS.
So those are some of the few offerings that we do here in NMS Labs.
Joe Lavelle: Outstanding. NMS Labs recently moved the Forensic Biology Unit and opened a new DNA laboratory at corporate headquarters there in Pennsylvania. Could you please share some of the exciting new details with some of these advancements?
Joannie Sgueglia: It has been very exciting. In fact we’re still in the midst of moving this past week and we moved to what we called – in 200 Welsh Road. So we call it the new headquarters. It’s a newly designed facility. It meets our specific needs as a DNA unit. It provides an environment where we can continue our high quality work. That new space there allows for all the new instrumentation and the workflows that we validated.
When you have the right space, it does things to minimize contamination events, although our laboratory has extremely good lab technique. We have very minimal contamination events in our laboratory. So that will just enhance our current good technology and processes.
The new space will allow for access to different workstations and instruments for simultaneous processing. So this way, some of the analysts, when they need to get on instrumentation, don’t have to wait. So the fact that we have three 3500 instruments, we have a 3130 instrument, we have several QS-5s for our quantitation and we have plenty of thermocyclers and things like that.
So basically the new space allows more samples to get processed in a timely manner to enable us to have better turnaround times for our clients. Management has been fully supportive over DNA expansion efforts. They’ve provided funding for the new space allocations, the instrumentation and hiring of staff.
Joe Lavelle: Great. Just for some additional background, what are some of the requirements for forensic biologists at NMS Labs to work with DNA?
Joannie Sgueglia: Yeah, there are fairly stringent requirements. We follow all the SWGDAM guidelines and we follow accreditation guidelines, and in order for an individual to become a qualified DNA analyst, they must have the required coursework, the required training in terms of six months of training, the different academic courses. They have to take statistical classes, et cetera. I would guess that for our laboratory, we have 13 people in total at this point in time and I would say given the experience – some folks come in new and then they have to go through all the training from the start. Other people come in with experience, they may have a modified training process. But basically I would guesstimate we have over 75 years or so of experience within our DNA unit. For the new folks, it’s really nice because they bring new ideas and methods and strategies and it’s good to see the fresh perspectives and talents from the very new people right out of school.
So we have those that come from other labs, come with certain ideas, fresh ideas and then we try and capitalize on that and make the best methodologies and procedures we can to serve our clients.
All of our DNA personnel are also required to obtain what we call the Texas Forensic Science Certification Program. If we are to process cases for the State of Texas, you do have to be certified and most of us that have been there are already certified to process cases for Texas. Those that are new are working on their certification.
Some of us like myself also have certifications from the American Board of Criminalistics and everyone has extensive training in DNA filing and statistics and interpretations, especially mixture interpretations.
Joe Lavelle: Wow. In addition to all that training and all those certifications, how else does NMS Labs ensure quality assurance standards for your clients?
Joannie Sgueglia: Well, in the field of forensic DNA testing, the importance of quality is paramount. Forensic DNA clients are very demanding. We have to adhere to all the required quality assurance standards. We have to maintain our accreditation. Clients really expect an extreme attention to detail throughout the testing and right from the chain of custody, which is the receipt of the evidence to the final reporting and testimony, if applicable, if one is to go to court on a case.
So basically we must have everything documented and sensible for court proceedings. That’s pretty standard in DNA units. We also take a corroborative approach with the client on their complex cases. We’re willing to work with clients each step of the process to provide the high quality testing that is required for each case and the nuances of each case.
We recently reviewed and improved our processes to ensure we’re meeting the expectations of the clients and the forensic DNA community. As I mentioned, we’ve just done validations for 15 different workflows so we can be flexible in offering all chemistries on several platforms depending on where the client comes from.
So some clients may use one particular kit to do their CODIS entries. Another client may use another kit. As a private lab, we have to be versed, validated and online with all the different chemistries so we can serve all our clients with all the quality assurance standards in mind.
Joe Lavelle: I love it when we can share specific examples with our audience. Are there any DNA casework examples that you could share with us?
Joannie Sgueglia: Yes. We have recently – one of the things I mentioned is remains identification. Back a few years ago, just about three years ago or so, October of 2016, we here in North Carolina and on the northeast coast had Hurricane Matthew. It was a category five hurricane. There were many fatalities in the US, close to 47 fatalities. There was over $10 billion of damage in the US and we had a case come in regarding a cemetery that was located near a river and the river flooded and it caused the cemetery to disturb the gravesites, such that 36 vaults were affected and they were basically vaults floating over the graveyard. Half the bodies had been identified and they came back with 18 that were unidentified. They wound up taking samples from the remains as the proximal end of femurs and sent them all to NMS Labs. So this is sort of something we would call as our Cemetery Bones Identification Case.
I will keep it general and generic and since no names or anything like that. But we had 14 relatives submit samples whereby we’re able to match from the family relatives to 9 of the different remains. There were like parent-to-child comparisons, full sib or half sib. So we’re able to get half of those 18. We got 9 identified and apparently there’s still 9 others remaining. So that was one of the cases that unfortunately occurs after a hurricane and that could unsettle the earth and cause the sacred ground to be disturbed.
Joe Lavelle: Wow. Amazing results there. Tell me this Joannie, what’s your favorite part of your role with NMS Labs.
Joannie Sgueglia: Well, for me I’m a Senior Forensic Biologist. My initial interest was always in trying to get DNA from samples that were difficult to get DNA from, things like bones and hairs and more difficult samples. So from very small samples. That may be quantitatively and qualitatively compromised. So sort of the more tougher samples. That was always the fun part when I worked at the bench. Now that I’m working remotely and I’m not in the lab, a lot of what gives me satisfaction is to mentor the newer DNA analysts and do training and validation to try and make them the best forensic DNA analyst they can be and provide the best services to our clients.
So this time for me, it’s a time of sort of giving back. I’ve been in the field for over 31 years and will be retiring within a few more years. So for me the gratification is to be able to help new and upcoming forensic scientists become the best so that they can then solve these kinds of interesting cases that we just talked about.
Joe Lavelle: As I said just a few minutes ago, I’m so excited we get to add the topic of DNA to our series here with NMS Labs. Right now while I have everyone’s attention, I would like everybody to go out to www.nmslabs.com. Bookmark that site. See what other great things they’re doing in addition to DNA science and keep up with the great things they do on an ongoing basis.
Joannie, it was so great to have you on our show. Thanks for stopping by and sharing your wisdom with us today.
Joannie Sgueglia: Thank you very much. My pleasure.
Joe Lavelle: All right. That wraps this broadcast. On behalf of our guest Joannie Sgueglia, I’m Joe Lavelle and we will see you soon on NMS Intelligence.