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The 2005 Clinical Medical Research Award

Acceptance remarks by Alec Jeffreys
Alec Jeffreys
The Foundation has done me a great, and I have to say wholly unexpected, honour today, and I am delighted to accept this award not only for myself but also on behalf of all my colleagues who helped turn my dream of DNA identification 20 years ago into a technology that has reached out and directly touched the lives of millions of people world wide.

Our discovery of DNA fingerprinting was of course totally accidental – what we were really trying to do at the time was to find highly informative DNA markers for basic genetic analysis in humans.
But at least we had the sense to realise what we had stumbled upon. At the time, 20 years ago, we saw the potential for DNA maybe in the occasional specialist forensic or civil law case. What has staggered me is just how dramatic the spread of DNA testing has become. Let me just give two examples. First, the United Kingdom National DNA database now contains the DNA profiles of 3 million UK citizens, which on a proportionate basis would mean that, were we in the UK, then a dozen or so people in this room would be on that database. Second, I recently had lunch with senior judges at the Old Bailey courts in London and met one judge who was really excited as he was trying a case which, for a change, did not involve any DNA evidence. And it’s not just crime – for example, DNA is clearly going to play a major role in identifying the victims of the hurricane Katrina disaster.

The impact of DNA fingerprinting has been extraordinary in terms of sheer numbers of people tested. But these bald numbers hide countless personal stories – some squalid, some touching, some tragic. Perhaps one of the most inspiring is that of Kirk Bloodsworth, a truly courageous man whom I am proud to count as a personal friend. He was convicted of a terrible murder back in 1984 and served nine years in a US penitentiary, including two years on death row, before DNA testing exonerated him and led to the identification of the true murderer. Kirk is now a tireless campaigner for post-conviction DNA testing, one of the most important aspects of DNA fingerprinting.

I am very proud of DNA fingerprinting and of the effect that it has had on society and criminal justice. My baby has come of age and I am pleased to say it’s flourishing. I thank you all for honouring it.

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