Legislative Auditor to review U research again

The audit will be the office’s third look into psychiatry department research since last year.

Youssef Rddad

Though University of Minnesota officials have vowed to improve psychiatric research practices, state lawmakers and critics are still not satisfied.

Minnesota Legislative Auditor James Nobles said he plans to launch a new probe of the University’s psychiatric research practices — his third look into University psychiatric research since the release of his first report last March.

At a state House of Representatives higher education committee meeting Tuesday, Nobles said the review will look into whether the University has fixed psychiatric research practices after a scathing audit last year found ethical issues and lapses in recruiting and safety oversight of human research subjects.

At the meeting, legislators also raised concern over how the University has handled the issue.

Dozens of changes to University research procedures were pledged after Nobles’ first investigations, and another managed by the Association for the Accreditation of Human Research Protection Programs revealed numerous faults with how the University conducts research.

Concerns over lapses in psychiatric ethics surfaced after the 2004 suicide of Dan Markingson, who was participating in drug study at the University when he died.

While University President Eric Kaler said the University has made three staff changes in the Department of Psychiatry since last year’s audits, more changes could be made to establish an ethical culture.

 “More than three people are probably going to have to go,” he said at the meeting.

Critics who testified also told lawmakers whistleblowers are often disregarded by their peers, which they say raises questions about a culture of unethical behavior at the University.  

Nobles also criticized the Board of Regents for not holding school administrators accountable for lapses in psychiatry research.

“You elected the regents to do what [legislators] have done today,” he said.

At the meeting, bioethics professor Carl Elliott said the University’s handling of the Markingson case was ignored for years. He said he doubts the University will take appropriate action.

“The Board of Regents is basically just yes-men for the administration,” Elliot said.   

Regent Michael Hsu said the amount of complaints the University has received is concerning. He also pointed to an external review revealed last month, which showed that psychiatry researchers had improperly recruited minors into studies and used unqualified support staff to conduct psychiatric trials, among others.

“I believe we should be doing more,” he said. “I think Mr. Noble gave us a lot to think about.”