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Forensic Science Services In Ministry Of Health

Forensic science is still a brand new scientific field from the point of view of Malaysian society, yet the emerge of forensic science in Ministry of Health has essentially reached its age of 13 years since the joining of the very first batch gForensic Science Services In Ministry Of Healthraduates of Kubang Kerian Campus of Science University of Malaysia in which has led and developed this specialized field of forensic science in the Ministry of Health. Following the fully development of this specialized field, the number of forensic scientists attached in the hospitals throughout the country is increasing with the main goal as a specialized team that is able to assist and fulfill the requirements during the post mortem and other medico-legal cases.

The specialized post of Forensic Science Officer (FSO) has been placed in a few hospitals in several states of Peninsular Malaysia, Sabah and Sarawak. This placement includes the Federal Territory of Kuala Lumpur (Kuala Lumpur Hospital), Selangor, Perak, Kedah, Negeri Sembilan, Penang, Malacca, Johor, Pahang, Sabah and Sarawak. The placement of FSO appointed in each state is solely based on the vacancy and requirements.

Specifically, this position has been created in the Ministry of Health under the management of Allied Health Sciences Division together with the other professions so as to assist in the process of forensic analysis provided to the agencies under the Ministry of Health especially the hospitals and other health offices. Forensic analysis which has been carried out in Ministry of Health is to obtain the results in a faster way as well as protecting the integrity of specimens and evidences obtained during the autopsy.

Forensic science is the broad spectrum of application of science and technology to identify and authenticate the chronology of an incident based on the scientific evidences obtained. This is focusing more on the implementation of the law whereby forensic science is correlated to criminal and also civil law. Forensic science, basically, is a vast field and can be divided into physiological forensic, social forensic, criminalistic, digital and other related area.

To fulfill the needs of further forensic analysis in the autopsy cases, FSO in Ministry of Health provides three main services which are provided in Laboratory of Forensic Medicine in those hospitals which has been equipped with high technological facilities viz. forensic toxicology, forensic histopathology, and forensic anthropology.

For the analysis of forensic toxicology, analysis of blood alcohol and tests for drugs in urine will be carried out. Analysis of blood alcohol is conducted using Gas Chromatography Mass Spectrometry (GCMS) that equipped with Headspace technique specifically for the analysis of volatile compounds that has been assisting in Forensic Medicine to determine Cause of Death (COD). On the other hand, tests for drugs in urine using High Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC) which equipped with Photo Diode Array (PDA) Detector to analyze drug type of Amphetamine and Methamphetamine. Analysis conducted in Ministry of Health is mainly to reduce the waiting time to obtain the chemistry results for every autopsy cases.

Picture 1: High Technological Instruments (GCMS and HPLC)
(Source: www.nmssc.ac.uk/ www.biochem.uwo.ca)

Histopathology analysis is emphasized in the forensic analysis in the Ministry of Health whereby involving the application of biological sciences correlated with tissue functions. The analysis is crucial in diagnosing the diseases and the COD via the histopathological examination on the disrupted tissue. The analysis involves a number of important processes viz. from the specimen receiving (tissue), tissue processing including fixation and embedding of tissue, and subsequently tissue staining either using H&E stain or special stains. The histopathology analysis enables the COD determination for certain cases that their COD cannot be easily determined during the autopsy because the disrupted tissue can only be observed through microscope and eventually COD can be confirmed as well.

Picture 2: Example of processed tissue for HPE
(Source: www.commons.wikimedia.org)

Forensic anthropology is also highlighted as one of the main services in forensic analysis focusing on analysis of bones found either burned or buried in gender determination via the measurements and sizes of bones. Anthropological service has been carried out in Pahang and Kuala Lumpur Hospitals. Apart from these three main services, there are two other subsidiary services conducted, the crime scene investigation and mass disaster management.

Crime scene investigation involves the process of documenting and providing the relevant reports. The documentation process includes scene sketches, photography, video recording, other responders, and evidence documents.

Picture 3: Crime Scene Investigation
(Source: www.beritaharian.com)

For the mass disaster management, forensic science is more geared to sample collection, sample preservation, sample storage, chain of custody, lab analysis either DNA or bones, and quality control. This is important to ensure that the samples do not mix and can be identified whenever sending to the lab analysis.

Picture 4: Mass Disaster Management
(Source: www.hmetro.com)

As an on-going and developing field, forensic science services also have the forwarding way and detailed planning to strengthen the forensic science services in the Ministry of Health. The planning that have been aimed for implementation in stages is to provide the analytical laboratories including toxicology, histopathology, anthropology, and entomology in each state and equipped with high technological instruments. The effort has been initiated to certain extent when some officers has continued their studies in the specialized field to provide their expertise in each of them. Each state must have a laboratory in order to accommodate with the increasing number of samples.

For the available toxicology and histopathology services, the improvement in terms of high technological equipments and also further development of analysis at the scene by using portable GC especially for cases involving exhumation and decomposition. Component analysis has to be extended to the analysis of paraquat, and other volatile compounds instead of alcohol and methanol. Tests for drugs in urine will be also including acidic and basic drugs and other drugs of abuse like morphine, codeine, cannabinoid, ketamine by using better instrumentation i.e. LCMS/MS to quantitate and determine the drug in biological samples. In histopathology other than H&E staining, special staining should be developed for certain cases that required further investigation to assist in microscopic diagnosis of the disruptive tissue and protein. The further implementation of more equipments and expert manpower to carry out the analysis will be required in the pace of increasing samples and hence, some of the FSO will be sent for further studies and attending short courses in accordance to provide their professionalism in the forensic science services especially forensic histopathology.

In a nutshell, forensic science services and forensic medicine services in Ministry of Health are complementing and supporting each other. In order to strengthen the forensic science services in the Ministry of Health, all the related parties should work together to create more potential ideas using their respective expertise and knowledge so as to improve the services as a strong team in Ministry of Health.

Last Reviewed : 17 October 2013
Writer : Ismazarni bt. Ismail
Accreditor : Khoo Lay See