Forensic autopsy cases has been and will be used as a material in the following research projects: asbest fiber exposure and pulmonary disease, postmortem angiography and lumbar disc degeneration, use and abuse of alcohol and liver and testis disease, moderate use of alcohol and cerebellar disease, mast cells implications for atherosclerosis and its complications, suicide methods. Based on these materials six dissertations have been published in 1994-1998.
There are two research projects going on in experimental forensic pathology; vital reactions in skin lesions and diatoms as an evidence of drowning.
Clinical forensic medicine
The only police surgeon station in Finland is at the Department of Forensic Medicine, University of Helsinki. Large research projects have been carried out on the epidemiology of drunken driving using the police surgeon station's material. The team work on drunken driving with the National Public Health Institute and the Mobile Police of Finland and the Department of Forensic Medicine will continue to the year 2002 at the moment.
The research activities of the Forensic Toxicology Division focus on three areas:
Development of analysis methods
Broad scale screening of biological specimens for drugs and poisons is the key element in forensic toxicology. Instrumental thin-layer chromatography, based on libraries of corrected Rf values and in situ UV spectra, has been developed in connection with instrument and software manufactures. This has resulted in novel methods and products, which are now used also in other laboratories. Dual column capillary gas chromatography methods, involving automated retention index monitoring, have been developed. In this project, homologous retention index standards for various groups of drugs have been designed and created based on own synthesis. Liquid chromatography – tandem mass spectrometry is a novel technique with great potential but limited applications in forensic toxicology. Investigations are carried out on the utilisation of this technique in broad scale screening analysis.
Epidemiology of poisoning
The comprehensive statistics produced by the Division allow extensive research in the epidemiology of poisoning. The focus is on alcohols, including methanol, and drugs, including the antidepressants and dextropropoxyphyne. Drugs involved in suicides are a special topic. Drugs of abuse studies have been conducted also internationally on a Nordic basis. An efficient tool for evaluating drug toxicity is the ratio of fatal poisonings to the consumption of drugs by the daily defined doses, and this approach has been used to re-estimate the Finnish drug scene.
New projects have been initiated together with medical scientists on the pharmacogenetics of certain drugs, which may cause fatalities through metabolism or other interactions.
The research activity in the forensic biology laboratory focuses on three projects:
Development of methods for identification of individuals
In PCR we currently amplify ten microsatellite loci in a single reaction tube. The microsatellites are thereafter analysed in a semi-automated capillary electrophoresis system. However, this type of analysis is limited to situations where a reference sample from the individual or his/her first degree relatives are available. For cases where only distant relatives are alive, we have developed novel methods that are based on analysis of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) or Y chromosomal DNA.
We are actively using genetic approaches to study history of finno-ugric speaking populations. These studies are part of multidisciplinary approach to historical questions. This project is carried out in collaboration with archeologists, linguistics and molecular anthropologists. Most of the studies are based on the analysis of mtDNA and Y chromosomal DNA. Thus, the methods used and developed can be also used in questions that are related to forensic problems leading to a fruitful synthesis of these two projects.
Molecular genetics and sudden death
Sudden unexpected death is a common problem in forensic medicine. Molecular level studies have revealed new genetic phenomenon that can be as underlying causes in sudden deaths. These involve genetic mutations that cause elevated cholesterol levels leading to premature atherosclerosis (e.g familial hypercholesterolemia) and fatal cardiac arythmias (e.g long-QT syndrome).
Forensic odontology includes dental identification of unknown individuals, age assessment of living people, mostly immigrants, bite mark analysis and identification in mass disasters. In addition, the diploma course in forensic odontology lasting two years is run by the Department of Forensic Medicine. Since forensic odontologists are working as consultants, no systematic research has been established so far. One PhD-thesis in identification has been completed. One PhD-thesis is currently under supervision.