As details come to light about how the University of Minnesota mistreated a suicidal psychiatry patient enrolled in an experimental drug study, the U has found itself in hot water. While former Gov. Arne Carlson hungers for President Eric Kaler's firing, all clinical drug trials in the psychiatry department have been temporarily suspended.
It all boils down to the death of Dan Markingson, a 26-year-old schizophrenia patient who killed himself six months into a 2003 AstraZeneca study led by the University of Minnesota's Dr. Stephen Olson.
As Markingson's treating psychiatrist, Olson originally recommended having his patient committed to a hospital. But then he provided Markingson a way out: participate in an experimental drug study instead.
The ethical issues of that agreement surfaced after investigators published damning reports of the university's cover-up of Markingson's trials. The U's reputation took a serious hit, but what of the doctor who started it all?
Olson's been spared serious consequences despite refusing to free Markingson from the drug trial after his mother, Mary Weiss, warned researchers of his steady deterioration. There has been no independent review of Olson himself. He remains on the faculty and continues to see patients.
According to the Minnesota Legislative Auditor's recent report, Weiss filed a complaint against Olson with the Minnesota Board of Medical Practice in 2008. The board then assigned Dr. David Adson, Olson's colleague in the U's psychiatry department, to review the drug trial's ethics. Eventually, Weiss's complaint was dismissed.
The Legislative Auditor's criticism of the board's hiring of Adson was scathing. Adson was part of the team that approved Olson's drug study in the first place, the report found. He had numerous contacts with AstraZeneca, and received more than $83,000 from the pharmaceutical company in 2006 alone.
"Even one of the conflicts we identified should have been enough for a disqualification, particularly in a case where a person died," according to the report.
In November 2014, the Food and Drug Administration looked into Olson's work. That investigation reportedly examined a number of his research endeavors, as well as Markingson's suicide. Although the FDA typically releases its reports within a month of visiting a site, the U says it hasn't received anything yet.
University of Minnesota bioethics professor Leigh Turner is an outspoken critic of the school's handling of the Markingson case. He keeps asking for public access to the Olson investigations, but so far
he's been ignored the University hasn't complied.
A U spokesman said he is legally prohibited from sharing investigative findings about a public employee unless there has been final disciplinary action.
"Given this pattern of reprehensible behavior, senior administrators must start honoring their commitment to transparency, make accurate claims about reviews, and ensure that investigations of alleged research misconduct are not concealed from the public," Turner wrote in an open letter to the university. "Instead, you are stonewalling requests for these investigations."
Send news tips to Susan Du.