Ethical issues at U plague research

A report by the Office of the Legislative Auditor has found “serious ethical issues and numerous conflicts of interests” in some of the University of Minnesota’s research programs, prompting the school to halt registration in all its psychiatric drug studies.

The report, which examined the 2004 suicide of Dan Markingson, a participant in one of the University’s antipsychotic drug trials, criticized the University for neglecting to perform necessary program reviews and for misleading the public about the findings of previous investigations. However, it could not specify whether Markingson’s suicide was directly related to his participation in the drug trial.

Earlier this year, a separate investigation by an external review agency found “significant problems” in the University’s research ethics. It warned that the University’s Institutional Review Board had failed to conduct adequate reviews on research projects and thus left human test subjects open to potential harm.

That investigation’s report recommended numerous policies for the University to pursue. Among these was to develop measures to prohibit “real or perceived coercion [of research participants] in psychiatric treatment settings” and to further open University research projects to external reviews.

The state audit suggested legislation to prevent the University from resuming its psychiatric drug trials until the school implements the external review’s recommendations.

The conclusions of these reviews embarrass the University’s reputation for professional scientific research. Administrators and researchers alike should fully comply with the independent report’s recommendations. Before the University’s human subject research programs can become exceptional, they first need to become adequate.