At the time Leicester became a more exciting place to be, when Leicester City F.C. became Premier League champions, I was going to the Netherlands for my secondment. Around Easter, I had visited the Analytical Chemistry group of the University of Amsterdam already to discuss research possibilities. My interest in determining the age of blood spatters appeared to be well in line with the aims of one of their research institutes, Van ‘t Hoff Institute for Molecular Sciences (HIMS), and I was therefore very excited that Prof. Garry Corthals could offer me a place in the institute for the maximum amount of secondment time.
It was good to be back at the university where I’d studied for my Forensic Science Masters. There are quite some differences between Dutch and UK universities regarding studying for a PhD and I was happy with the temporary changes; frequent meetings with a supervisor and brainstorming with other researchers for example (aside from the social side; every day group lunches, Friday afternoon drinks and more activities). The main goals of the secondment were exchanging knowledge, gaining research skills and carrying out a research project focussed on forensic science. I’ve completed all in the relatively short time period of only three months.
To go a little more in depth, I was able to try a new approach towards determining the age of blood spatters. Since 1900 multiple attempts have been made with different techniques, and I added a proteomics approach to that list. Proteomics is the study of proteins, which fits well with my background in biology, and is common in biological and medical studies but not (yet) in forensic studies. With the help of six donors and the chance to use different equipment than that available in my research group at the University of Leicester, I obtained a large dataset of proteins from blood spots with different ages. At the moment I’m still analysing this dataset as it’s quite complex besides being large.
In addition, I was involved in a collaboration project. The project had initially started off as a side-project to my main secondment project, but it has recently led to the publication of a manuscript in the Journal of Chromatography A. Two post-docs in the group had developed a reactor for the digestion of proteins (one of the first steps needed in proteomics work) and they had evaluated its performance with individual proteins. They were looking to investigate the performance on a complex mixture of proteins and that’s where the collaboration with me and ‘my dried blood spots’ started. The result would not only be relevant for the development of the reactor, but also to optimise the method of my main secondment project. We found that the total workflow time for analysing proteins in dried blood spots could be reduced from 22.5 hours to 4 hours!
At the moment, there is a concept plan for performing follow-up experiments touched upon in the future ideas section of the published manuscript. This is one of the reasons for just having submitted a request to the University of Leicester’s graduate dean for a secondment follow-up. Another main reason is that it would be good to investigate the effects of some further variables with the equipment used in my main secondment project. For now though it’s just a matter of waiting for the outcome of the request and analysing the already obtained data.