Children who are abused might carry the imprint of that trauma in their cells – a biochemical marking that is detectable years later, according to new research from BC Children's Hospital Research Institute, University of British Columbia and Harvard University.
The findings, based on a comparison of chemical tags on the DNA of 34 adult men, still need confirmation from larger studies, and researchers don’t know if this tagging—known as methylation—affects the victims’ health.
But the difference in methylation between those who had been abused and those who had not – if it is replicated in larger studies and can be described in greater detail – might one day be useful as a biomarker for investigators or courts in weighing allegations of child abuse.
“Methylation is starting to be viewed as a potentially useful tool in criminal investigations – for example, by providing investigators with an approximate age of a person who left behind a sample of their DNA,” said senior author Dr. Michael Kobor, a BC Children's Hospital investigator and medical genetics professor at UBC. “So it’s conceivable that the correlations we found between methylation and child abuse might provide a percentage probability that abuse had occurred.”