August 14, 2006

PostIt on Desk of President of UC Irvine: "Hire Bioethicist Quick, Also Consider Reading Internal Investigation Reports. Also, Look for New Job?"

On and on and on it goes in scandal-ridden UC Irvine, where the latest troubles concern the brain:
TV news personality Jane Pauley had a message to deliver in April when she spoke at a fundraiser for UC Irvine's Brain Imaging Center.

She told the 140 guests at the Island Hotel in Newport Beach about her battle with mental illness and spoke in support of the research being done by the center's director -- and Pauley's brother-in-law -- UCI psychiatry professor Steven G. Potkin.

Potkin is one of UCI's biggest stars. The 60-year-old psychiatrist is among the university's most prolific researchers. He brings in lucrative contracts from some of the world's biggest drug companies and has presided over as many as a dozen clinical trials at a time.

Recently, his investigation into nicotine's effects on the brain received national attention. And in March, the university proudly trumpeted his role in heading a $24-million National Institutes of Health project that will be headquartered at UCI.

But at the same time Potkin has attracted funding and recognition for UCI, he has also been investigated three times by the university for alleged ethical or financial breaches, according to more than 300 pages of documents obtained by The Times. And although Potkin says he was not disciplined as a result the investigations, each raised serious questions about his practices and how UCI dealt with the issues.

Most recently, administrators found in 2004 that the professor had skirted the school's patient safety review board to test a drug for a pharmaceutical company without the required university approval. When UCI learned of the research, it ordered Potkin to immediately halt the study.

Seven years earlier, administrators looked into why Potkin had directed drug companies to pay more than $2 million in research funds to a firm his family owned. The payments were related to studies he was performing at UCI. The university concluded that the company may have been set up to avoid UCI overhead fees, and it prohibited Potkin from using the company in future research projects.

At least they don't use prisoners.
- hat tip to Art Caplan

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