There may be a viable alternative, however. Testing company Integen X, cited by Congresswoman Speier, uses a testing technology that potentially eliminates the risk of other DNA testing methods. Integen X is part of Thermo Fisher Scientific and has also offered to donate DNA testing services to help reunite families.
A main risk of DNA kits comes from companies like 23andMe and MyHeritage building business models around detailed ancestry information and genetic risk analysis, which requires the use of offsite equipment. Once individuals' DNA is sent off site, there is a risk of losing the chain of custody, said Rosy Lee, vice president and general manager of the human identification sector of Thermo Fisher.
Thermo Fisher is trying to combat privacy concerns by using a rapid DNA system that only analyzes paternity relationships. The machine produces results in just 90 minutes, which eliminates long wait times and the need to ship to another location to figure out extraneous details, Lee said. The company has said it will donate $1 million worth of rapid DNA analyzers to “support efforts to reunite children and parents recently separated at the U.S.-Mexico border.”
The analyzers are called the RapidHIT system, a 50-pound instrument that analyzes the contents of a cheek swab in a cartridge. The instrument can be set up in the field in a matter of minutes, and the cartridge can be destroyed on-site or handed back to the individual. The data is then sent to another authorized figure manning a software hub, which can be set up right next to the instrument.
The 50-pound piece of equipment is not the only alternative to the more popular consumer DNA testing kits. Academic testing supervised by an oversight group would also work, Caplan said. Picking an academic health center near Texas, for example, would protect the samples analyzed and could provide necessary counseling for many of the children, according to Caplan.
“We’re here because we realize we have a technology that can quickly match children with their parents,” Lee said. “For us it was just a no-brainer.”
Caplan said the rise of the DNA testing technology belies a larger point about the dialogue medical experts are now being forced to engage in: immigration has succumbed to the drastic — and in his view unacceptable — measure of using genetics.