By Kent Larsen
Salt Lake Biotech Company Identifying the Victims
SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH -- A Salt Lake City biotech company on the Mormon Stock
Index is doing much of the work most crucial to the families who lost
relatives in the attacks on the World Trade Center -- identifying the
remains, however small, of the victims. Myriad Genetics is processing both
the DNA samples of the victims and those provided by the relatives so that
matches can be made in what promises to be a long process.
Myriad Genetics was started in 1991 by researchers seeking to identify
disease-causing genes. By marrying genetic techniques to LDS genealogical
data, the company hoped to provide both tests for diseases and therapeutic
drugs to treat them. It has since found two genes that predispose women to
breast cancer, and its principal business comes from processing, at $2,700
each, tests to identify those women predisposed to cancer. Since its tests
are patented, no one else can perform them.
But since the company's research costs aren't covered by the tests, it has
also started providing other genetic laboratory services, including
analyzing DNA. It has sought contracts to identify the DNA of criminals for
DNA databases (similar to the fingerprint databases that law enforcement
already uses), and its contract with New York State, for analysis of 400,000
DNA samples at $40 each, has now led the company to get the work identifying
the victims of the World Trade Center attacks.
There's a lot of work to be done. Over 5,000 are reported missing, and
potentially that many samples from relatives will be submitted for testing.
In addition, the number of samples from the victims could be much larger
than this because searchers are finding only pieces of the victims, leading
some victims to be identified from multiple parts.
However, recent announcements from New York authorities indicate that not
all victims will be found. To date, of the 5,000 missing, only a few hundred
body parts have been found. And, the process of clearing the site and
recovering everything that can be recovered could take as much as a year.
At Myriad Genetics, the samples are handled with the care and speed that
they well know is required. Trucks delivering samples can't even open their
doors unless a Myriad employee is present, and they wait for processing in
locked padlocks marked simply "New York." The employees, many of whom are
Mormon simply because the company is located in Utah, feel a certain care is
necessary, "This sample is someone's life who's been touched," says Myriad
lab technician Linda Silva, "Every sample we're getting -- they have a void
in their life; they lost a loved one."
Kathi Gumpper, manager of Myriad's data analysis section says that the
process has actually helped the morale of employees, "It's something we can
do from as far away as Utah to really help in the recovery process." And
Benoit Leclair, a Myriad scientist who worked for a forensics laboratory in
Canada on identifying the remains of victims from a Swissair jet that
crashed off Nova Scotia, said, "Knowing how much pounding there was on our
door in Canada, I immediately suggested that the best way we can help New
York was providing speed and accuracy."
Identifying the Dead, 2,000 Miles Away
New York Times 30Sep01 B4
By Andrew Pollack