Sunday, February 1, 2015

The dirty thirty (million) from the governor

Gov. Mark Dayton wants to give the University of Minnesota Medical School $30 million, and the university's public relations arm at the Star Tribune thinks it's a terrific idea. "The University of Minnesota Medical School is the foundation on which this state has built its reputation for medical excellence," writes the Star Tribune editorial page. "A propitious time for medical hiring has come."

Of course, it's no secret that the Medical School has been in trouble for a long time.  As the Star Tribune editorial staff points out, "Between 1995 and 2001, the school lost 90 of its 540 faculty members, most of them researchers who took with them substantial NIH grants."

But that's only a fraction of the story. The period from 1995 to 2001 was also a time when the U staggered its way through an unprecedented series of research scandals.

The head of child psychiatry was convicted of fraud, sent to federal prison, and in 1997, barred by the FDA from ever conducting human research.  Two years later the FDA barred the head of the chemical dependency unit from doing human research after he enrolled illiterate Hmong opium addicts into a dangerous study of a CNS depressant without their consent.  Yet those scandals stood merely as prelude to the ALG fiasco, which prompted investigations by the FBI, the IRS and the FDA, criminal prosecutions, massive legal fees, and years of probation ("exceptional status") from the National Institutes of Health.  It's no wonder so many faculty members started heading for the exit doors. Why wouldn't they?

Yet only a few years after the NIH removed the university from exceptional status, the scandals started up again. The Pepsi Dean affair. The Furcht scandal.  The Senate Finance Committee investigation.  The AstraZeneca spin scandal. The indictments in Georgia. The bifeprunox study. And of course, the suicide of Dan Markingson in the CAFE study.

These scandals have not been resolved. In fact, for the most part, the administration refuses even to admit that they constitute scandals.  This kind of denial is a recipe for corruption and the abuse of patients.  It should not be rewarded.  Until these issues have been investigated credibly and publicly, the legislature should keep that $30 million in its pocket.

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