New Brunswick

Saint John native develops synthetic blood

Saint John geneticist Paul Wilson is working on a product designed to change forensic science: synthetic blood.

Paul Wilson says his team's forensic blood substitute feels, looks, dries and spatters like the real thing

To experiment with her blood substitute, Theresa Stotesbury made these drippings by pushing the subtance through a syringe onto a paper surface from a height of 10 centimetres. (Photo submitted by: Theresa Stotesbury)

Saint John geneticist Paul Wilson is working on a product designed to change forensic science: synthetic blood.

When it comes to forensic science training, most places use water, cornstarch and food colouring as their blood substitute.

But Wilson and his team are aiming higher.

"We're running it in comparison to blood, ensuring that it has the same properties," the Millidgeville native said. "You put the cornstarch, red dye suggestions in for fake blood and it just doesn't behave even close."

Wilson, who works at Trent University in Peterborough, Ont., said his team's forensic blood substitute feels, looks, dries and spatters like the real thing.

What makes their substitute realistic is a trade secret, but it's been validated against real blood, Wilson said.

Niche market

Theresa Stotesbury, the PhD student who came up with the idea, said that through her studies she saw there was a niche market for better fake blood.

Human and animal blood is expensive, a biohazard and often requires ethics boards to acquire: three things this new product avoids.
Paul Wilson, a Millidgeville native, is helping to produce a synthetic blood that is changing the way people train in forensic science. (Photo submitted by: Paul Wilson)

For Wilson, with better blood substitutes comes better training. With better training comes better forensic scientists in the field.  

Although the team makes all of its blood in-house, Stotesbury would like to take the product to international markets.

"There are a lot of countries around the world that can't use blood in their training or they're looking for a fake thing that does the same thing, has a long shelf life," the 27-year-old said. "Working with blood can be tricky because it coagulates really quickly."

The blood that Wilson, Stotesbury and their team make is more accessible, safer and more realistic than the alternatives, they say. (Photo submitted by: Theresa Stotesbury)
Stotesbury will defend her thesis in a few month, after which, Wilson hopes to amp up production.

Their team has sent off some samples to high schools that teach forensic science and received great feedback, said Stotesbury.

"You can see in our analysis that the students are really understanding and learning the physics of blood stains."

Bonding with DNA

In future versions of the product, Wilson said, the team would like to bond DNA with the blood.

While bonding the fake blood to DNA will be more expensive, it also opens possibilities, he said.

"That opens up another training realm," he said. "There are a lot more DNA analysts than there are people training in blood spatters.