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. 2011 Jul 15;210(1-3):110-6.
doi: 10.1016/j.forsciint.2011.02.015. Epub 2011 Mar 6.

The Role of Variations in Growth Rate and Sample Collection on Interpreting Results of Segmental Analyses of Hair

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The Role of Variations in Growth Rate and Sample Collection on Interpreting Results of Segmental Analyses of Hair

Marc A LeBeau et al. Forensic Sci Int. .

Abstract

Segmental analysis of hair for drugs, metabolites, and poisons has been widely reported in the scientific literature over the past two decades. Two fundamental assumptions in interpreting results of such analyses are (1) an average linear growth rate of head hair of 1cm/month and (2) that sample collections occur with the hair being cut directly next to the scalp. The purpose of this study was to evaluate the variability associated with growth rate of human head hair, as well as the ability to uniformly collect hair next to the scalp. The results were used to determine how these factors affect the interpretation of results generated in segmental analysis of hair. A thorough literature review was conducted to assess the range of linear growth of human head hair from the vertex posterior and occipital regions. The results were compiled to establish the average (1.06cm/month), as well as the range of possible growth rates of head hair. The range was remarkable and suggests that conclusions based on the 1-cm/month growth rate could be significantly skewed. A separate study was undertaken to evaluate collection of hair next to the scalp. Fourteen individuals were provided oral instructions, as well as a written standard collection procedure for head hair. The experience levels among the collectors varied from novice to expert. Each individual collected hair from dolls with short- and long-hair. Immediately following each collection, the sampling area was evaluated to determine how close to the scalp the cuts were made, as well as the variability in the lengths of hair remaining at the sampled area. From our collection study, we determined that 0.8±0.1cm of hair was left on the scalp after cutting. When taking into account the amount of hair left on the scalp after collecting, the use of a growth rate of 1.06cm/month, and the assumption that it takes two weeks for newly formed hair in the follicle to reach the scalp, we find that the first 1-cm segment of hair typically corresponds to hair formed 1.3±0.2 to 2.2±0.4 months (95% confidence) earlier. The impact of these findings as it relates to the corresponding time for each additional segment is demonstrated. As a result, we recommend that hair collection be delayed 8 weeks after a suspected ingestion to ensure that the sample fully represents the exposure period. The results of this study suggest that the variability in the growth rate of human head hair, as well as the inconsistent collection of hair, significantly affect the interpretation of results from segmental analysis of hair.

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