ELIZABETH, NJ — The Union County Prosecutor’s Office is requesting funding to purchase laboratory equipment it would use to test a backlog of sexual assault evidence collection kits.

Acting Union County Prosecutor Lyndsay Ruotolo told the freeholders Thursday that while the prosecutor's office is ahead of a state mandate to test the kits, it has a five-year backlog of the rape kits to test for potential serial rapists whose DNA may have been picked up when they committed other crimes. 

"It can solve cold cases and help us get through that backlog of five years of rape kits,” Ruotolo said.

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Ruotolo is requesting $304,812.89 to purchase automated liquid handlers and supplies from Tecan, a biotechnology company based in North Carolina. Tecan “develops, manufactures and distributes laboratory instruments and automation products for the biopharma, forensic and diagnostic industries,” according to the company’s website

The equipment, Ruotolo said, will be used along with existing machines in the laboratory to test samples related to sexual assaults and homicides in the county.

“We have to find a robot that will work within our existing equipment,” Ruotolo said. “As with a lot of the equipment in the lab, there are only certain companies that can actually make it, so we had two unsuccessful bids because they just couldn’t possibly fit within the machines that we currently own.”

“What these robots do is, there’s like a tray of biological samples,” she said. “They’re in pipets, which are even smaller than test tubes, and at certain times, in order for the testing to be completed, the pipets need to be removed, and moved and shifted around.

"And when humans do it, they need to be there and time it right, and they can easily contaminate the samples, as opposed to the robots that can run all night, seven days a week.”

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