April 18, 2006

Who Owns What is in the Dish? Wash U, that's Who

St. Louis Dispatch reports that:
A federal judge in St. Louis has ruled in favor of Washington University that donors of tissue samples for medical research surrender control over who uses them... The decision "runs roughshod on patients' rights," said Dr. William J. Catalona, the prostate cancer researcher who collected the disputed samples. Catalona was a faculty member at the university for 27 years. He established a tissue bank, known as the GU Biorepository, that now includes samples from more than 30,000 men.

When he left to become director of the prostate cancer program at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, Catalona sent letters to 10,000 patients who had donated blood, tumor samples and DNA for his research. The letters asked patients to write to Washington University and ask that their samples be transferred to Catalona. More than 6,000 men told Washington University that they wanted Catalona, not the university, to possess their samples.

When Catalona tried to block the National Cancer Institute from using samples from the repository, Washington University filed suit for control of the material and accused the doctor of making misleading statements to patients in his effort to take it back.

On Friday, U.S. District Judge Stephen Limbaugh ruled in favor of the university, declaring it the sole owner of the disputed tissue samples and granting it permission to use the samples for appropriate research, and the authority to transfer the tissues to other institutions.

"I do think it is a big setback for patients' rights," said Lori Andrews, an ethicist at the Illinois Institute of Technology and a law professor at the Chicago-Kent College of Law.

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