Under fire from a year-old audit for mishandling human body parts in its research and teaching operations, UCSD has finally announced creation of a new high-level committee to help clean up its act.
"As many of you know, the University of California system has had issues around the appropriate use and disposition of anatomic specimens, and the use of these specimens has come under increasing scrutiny," says a campus notice posted June 22 by Sandra Brown, UCSD vice chancellor for research.
"In response to a directive from the University of California Office of the President and to insure we are fully compliant with best practices, I am announcing the establishment of a Human Anatomical Specimen and Tissue Oversight Committee," the memo continues.
"The committee will oversee the appropriate and ethical handling of anatomical and tissue specimens at UC San Diego. Its aim is to provide a uniform campus approach for the development of and adherence to system wide and UC San Diego policies."
Adds the announcement, "The Committee will be chaired by the Dean of the School of Medicine and report to me, as Vice Chancellor for Research. Members of the Committee will include the Responsible Executive Officer of the Anatomical Services Program; the Director of Anatomical Services; a Representative of the Pathology Department; a Campus Counsel; a public member; a representative from Environmental, Health, and Safety; the Institutional Review Board Director; and representatives from all donation programs, including, but not limited to those who harvest brains, human tissues, and other partial body anatomical specimens."
Under the newly mandated practices, the notice continues, "Each UC San Diego program that accepts donations of human tissue will need to submit a candidate for committee membership and all candidates should be an M.D., Ph.D., or MSP representative from their program."
Not acknowledged by the announcement is the long-troubled history of UCSD's body-parts program and its murky acquisition activities, which have drawn sharp criticism from internal auditors.
As previously reported here, an August 2014 audit released by the University of California this month (after a six-month delay following a request made under the state's public records act last December) cited multiple "inherent risks associated with procurement practices" of human body parts.
Some of the questions involved lack of proper accounting for the growing wave of human materials acquired by donation or purchase by the university’s various departments and researchers each year.
"Management advised us that the number of UC San Diego conferences and/or physician training sessions that utilize anatomical materials purchased from outside companies has been consistently increasing," the audit said.
"In addition, there are UC San Diego Health Sciences research units including, but not limited to the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center and the UC San Diego Brain Observatory that receive donations directly."
According to the audit, a high-level campus committee was needed to deal with the problems.
"This committee will also serve as a formal commission for preventing the use of specimens from outside companies unless they are monitored by the [body donation program], and will assist in identifying and minimizing the risks associated with donated or vendor provided anatomical materials."
A large-scale FBI investigation of black-market body trading in at least three states has recently rattled the for-profit cadaver industry and its academic and hospital industry customers, as reported last September by the Guardian.
"An FBI official in Detroit confirmed that the bureau is looking at an Oregon research center, and investigators have raided facilities in Michigan and Arizona," said the paper.
"Besides confirming the existence of an investigation, authorities have been tight-lipped about what they are examining and why."
The story continued, "The FBI and the Arizona attorney general’s office raided Biological Resource Center in January, owner Steve Gore says in a letter on the front page of the firm’s website. The company accepts donations of dead bodies and links tissues with researchers and educators, according to its website."
The story quoted Detroit-based FBI special agent David Porter as saying, "We have an investigation with respect to, out in Oregon...the Legacy donation program. That is literally all I have said and that’s literally all I will say.”
In March, a Phoenix television station reported it had obtained the record of an FBI search warrant for a federal raid, listing seized items as "full human bodies, human heads, shoulders, torsos, arms, hips, knees, and tibias."
Last month a Chicago woman filed suit against the Biological Resource Center of Illinois, alleging that parts of her father’s corpse had been marketed for research instead of being cremated, according to a report by CBS Chicago.
The federal investigation is said to be continuing.