Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Fast-multiplying Lawsuits Can Stymie Medical Science, Authors Warn

Date:
January 4, 2007
Source:
Washington University School of Medicine
Summary:
Class-action lawsuits can significantly slow or halt science's ability to establish links between neurological illness and environmental factors produced by industry, a team of scientists and lawyers warn in the journal Neurology.

Class-action lawsuits can significantly slow or halt science's ability to establish links between neurological illness and environmental factors produced by industry, a team of scientists and lawyers warns in the journal Neurology.

The authors caution that litigation's effects could seriously impair efforts to identify compounds that contribute to a wide variety of diseases, including Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). They provide suggestions for policy changes to help shield scientists and their research. Recommendations include enhancing privacy protections for patient data obtained in research projects and eliminating financial conflicts-of-interest for scientists actively involved in research related to the litigation.

The lead author, Brad A. Racette, M.D., associate professor of neurology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, writes from personal experience: His studies tentatively linking welding to increased risk of Parkinson's disease resulted in a torrent of subpoenas for research data. Responding to them slows or stops his follow-up research.

"Participation in the legal system can be a huge burden on a researcher's schedule," Racette says. "There comes a point where a scientist needs the right to be able to say, testifying in court is not what I'm supposed to be doing, I'm supposed to be studying disease."

In addition to the scheduling challenges, parties involved in lawsuits often demand extensive disclosure of scientific data that disrupts research and threatens the privacy of patients and research volunteers. The two lawyers who are coauthors on the Neurology article, Ann Bradley and Carrie A. Wrisberg, worked with Racette to defend his data from unreasonable disclosure requests.

"I'm fortunate in that I work for a university that was willing to defend the value and privacy of our research data," Racette says. "Other scientists aren't so lucky."

The federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) prohibits release of data that can be used to identify patients, Racette notes. However, in many instances the extensive volume and particularity of data demanded by lawyers may still permit research subjects to be identified.

"To protect patient privacy and the value of our research data, we need specific, across-the-board restrictions on information that can be released in the courtroom," he says. "For example, Illinois has a law that designates medical research data as protected. That should be a model for other states."

The authors note that the substantial financial interests at stake in lawsuits often leads to biased research by well-paid expert witnesses. They cite the example of a Texas doctor found to be overdiagnosing a disease known as silicosis. The doctor had a financial interest in the number of patients diagnosed.

Peer review is of course a part of the regular scientific process, Racette notes, but a knowledgeable expert can design a study with a predetermined goal of discrediting earlier studies that linked a suspected toxin to a disease.

Industries on the defensive have also attempted to impugn the credibility of researchers. As an example, the authors cite the case of Herbert Needleman, M.D., professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at the University of Pittsburgh and the first scientist to link lead exposure to low IQ levels in children. The lead industry attacked Needleman's integrity, alleging academic fraud and triggering investigations by the Federal Scientific Integrity Board and his university. The investigations failed to find any evidence of academic fraud, and Needleman's results were later replicated, leading to beneficial changes such as the removal of lead from gasoline.

"It's really quite an eye-opener," Racette says. "Herb Needleman had to endure great personal and financial hardships, including the prospect of career loss and $85,000 in personal legal fees, all because he dared to study something produced by a powerful industry that might be harmful to people."

Racette admits that the difficulties litigation has imposed on his research has, at times, made the thought of switching his focus to a different area tempting. But he says he's much too stubborn to ever seriously consider such a step.

"To cure or prevent intractable disorders like the one I focus on, Parkinson's disease, scientists need to be free to investigate many different potential causes, including environmental factors produced by industry," he says. "We hope to get a national dialogue going about how we can create an environment where scientists are as free as possible to do good, unbiased research."

Racette's frequent collaborator Joel S. Perlmutter, M.D., professor of neurology, radiology and physical therapy and associate professor of neurobiology, is senior author of the paper.

Reference: Racette BA, Bradley A, Wrisberg CA, Perlmutter JS. The impact of litigation on neurologic research. Neurology, December 26, 2006.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Washington University School of Medicine. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Washington University School of Medicine. "Fast-multiplying Lawsuits Can Stymie Medical Science, Authors Warn." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 4 January 2007. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/01/070103201256.htm>.
Washington University School of Medicine. (2007, January 4). Fast-multiplying Lawsuits Can Stymie Medical Science, Authors Warn. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 24, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/01/070103201256.htm
Washington University School of Medicine. "Fast-multiplying Lawsuits Can Stymie Medical Science, Authors Warn." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/01/070103201256.htm (accessed April 24, 2014).

Share This



More Health & Medicine News

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Big Pharma Braces for M&A Wave

Big Pharma Braces for M&A Wave

Reuters - Business Video Online (Apr. 22, 2014) Big pharma on the move as Novartis boss, Joe Jimenez, tells Reuters about plans to transform his company via an asset exchange with GSK, and Astra Zeneca shares surge on speculation that Pfizer is looking for a takeover. Joanna Partridge reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Study Says Most Crime Not Linked To Mental Illness

Study Says Most Crime Not Linked To Mental Illness

Newsy (Apr. 22, 2014) A new study finds most crimes committed by people with mental illness are not caused by symptoms of their illness or disorder. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Hagel Gets Preview of New High-Tech Projects

Hagel Gets Preview of New High-Tech Projects

AP (Apr. 22, 2014) Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is given hands-on demonstrations Tuesday of some of the newest research from DARPA _ the military's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency program. (April 22) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
How Smaller Plates And Cutlery Could Make You Feel Fuller

How Smaller Plates And Cutlery Could Make You Feel Fuller

Newsy (Apr. 22, 2014) NBC's "Today" conducted an experiment to see if changing the size of plates and utensils affects the amount individuals eat. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins