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Sara Casado Zapico

Instructor of Forensic Chemistry, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, FIU; Facility Manager, International Forensic Research Institute


Phone: 305-348-3970

Email: scasadoz@fiu.edu

Fax: 305-348-4485

Background

Sara C. Zapico is an Instructor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry and Facility Manager of the International Forensic Research Institute at Florida International University. She is also a Research Collaborator at the Anthropology Department from the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution. She has been an Associate/Forensic Specialist at the International Committee of the Red Cross in Geneva, Switzerland. From 2012 to 2014 she was awarded with the Peter Buck Award Postdoctoral Fellowship from the Smithsonian Institution. She also carried out short-stays as Visiting Scientist at the Office of Chief Medical Examiner-City of New York, American Museum of Natural History, Department of Forensic Medicine from the Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium and Mercyhurst University. Likewise she has been an External Advisor in forensic cases for the Civil Guard in Spain and an Adjunct Professor for the Postgraduate course in Forensic Anthropology at University of Girona, Spain. Dr. C. Zapico has authored 18 peer-reviewed scientific publications and edited one book in the fields of forensic biochemistry, forensic anthropology and biomedical sciences and presented 35 papers in the U.S. and Europe. Her research interests focuses on the application of biochemical techniques to forensic anthropology issues like age-at-death estimation and the determination of post-mortem interval. She collaborates as a biostatistician in forensic anthropology and fingerprints projects. Dr. C. Zapico is an Associate Member of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS), a Trainee of the American Society of Human Genetics (ASHG), a member of International Association of Coroners and Medical Examiners (IACME), a member of International Academy of Legal Medicine (IALM) and Forensic Anthropology Society in Europe (FASE). She has been a founding member of Españoles Científicos en USA (ECUSA, Spanish Scientists in the US).

General Research Areas

Application of Biochemistry techniques to Forensic Anthropology issues like age-at-death estimation and time-since-death. Biostatistics applied to Forensic Sciences.

CARFS Funded Projects

  • Epigenetic signatures for age-at-death estimation in forensic anthropology context; Identification of human remains: One of the goals in forensic anthropology investigation is to estimate the age-at-death of a single individual. Age assessment contributes to the identification of deceased individuals, helping to create a biological profile to compare to missing person in a forensic context. In adults, there are several techniques to determine the age-at-death based on a physiological degeneration of skeletal and dental structures. However, endogenous and exogenous factors; pathological conditions and fragmentary remains influence this relationship, leading to the determination of physiological age, which might be quite different from chronological age, even more, when the person is older. As a result, these methods are less accurate. For that reason, new methodologies for age estimation are being developed. These new trends are based on the natural process of aging, which leads to alterations of tissues and organs on different biochemical levels. Among them, aspartic acid racemization seems to be the most accurate, however, it is not exempt of drawbacks, thus other methodologies have to be explored. Previous studies developed mainly in blood samples with aging and forensic purposes point out to the analysis of methylation levels of CpG islands of certain aging-related genes as a useful and accurate tool for age estimation. Towards the application of this technique to forensic anthropology, our preliminary study carried out in teeth demonstrated a strong correlation between the methylation levels of CpG islands of four aging-related genes and age, finding a difference between predicted and chronological age of five years. Supported by these previous results, our goal is to expand this project, through increasing the number of teeth samples and identifying epigenetic signatures in other aging-related genes, to finally improve the accuracy of age-at-death estimation in forensic anthropology context.