Columbia University drug study scandal

doctor steth funnyThis story is enough to strike terror into our hearts.  Literally.  If you happen to be a medical researcher, it’s even more troubling, because anytime you have patients dying during clinical trials, researchers  investigated by their employers, lawsuits launched against hospitals by their own doctors, drug companies funding research into products that kill people, patients misinformed about what studies would do to them, and world-famous heart institutes trying to sweep all of it under the rug – well, it looks bad.

The non-profit Huffington Post Investigative Fund obtained government documents last week about a two-year drug study undertaken at Columbia University Medical Center between 1999 and 2001 that was so badly mismanaged, it will likely be used as a case study in future PR classes.

This study focused on four fluids called ‘blood expanders’ that are administered by anaesthesiologists and combat medics when patients/soldiers have lost significant quantities of blood. Blood expanders are frequently needed during over half a million cardiac surgeries performed each year in North America alone.

Trouble was: two of the study’s four blood expanders contained hetastarch, which two previous studies dating back to 1981 had already warned would prevent blood from clotting at high dosages, and one of the two, Hextend, was manufactured by drug giant Abbott Laboratories – coincidentally one of the funders of the study.  Abbott’s interest was in boosting its share of the blood expander business with Hextend if the Columbia study results were favourable. Continue reading