Alex Constantine - May 23, 2010
WHBL News Radio (Sheboygan, WI) | May 12, 2010
MADISON, Wis. (WTAQ) - UW-Madison has suspended a scientist’s research work for 5 years, after he let unauthorized and potentially dangerous experiments take place. The university released information Tuesday about Gary Splitter, a bio-medical sciences professor in the UW Veterinary School.
The experiments were done by a post-doctoral researcher and graduate students. They introduced genes to strains of the regulated bacteria Brucella – and the university says those genes could have compromised the antibiotic that’s used to fight the infectious disease brucellosis. The substance was confined to the lab, and officials said no humans or animals were infected.
The UW said Splitter failed to supervise his lab under federal guidelines. The school said it agreed to pay $40,000 in fines last fall to settle violations of rules that govern the use of selected chemicals.
UW officials learned about the experiments after the federal government questioned Splitter’s work during an inspection in 2007. In defending himself, he previously told school officials that his work was published in journals 160 times, and it brought $16 million in research funds to the university.
"Brucellosis is a disease that generally infects livestock or other animals but can spread to humans through several means, including consumption of milk contaminated with the bacteria. Symptoms include fever, headache, and back pain and the disease can produce “severe infections” of the central nervous system or heart lining, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)."
The strain was "antibiotic resistant":
" ... This unauthorized research is even more egregious because it was with an antibiotic-resistant select agent ... "
A researcher contracts brucellosis::
UW employee infected in lab where unauthorized experiments happened
MADISON, Wis. (AP) A University of Wisconsin-Madison researcher caught a rare infectious disease in 2008 in a laboratory that has been shut down for performing unauthorized experiments.
UW-Madison Associate Dean for Research Policy Bill Mellon says the worker caught human brucellosis in the lab of professor Gary Splitter and has since recovered. ...
Splitter says brucellosis can cause recurring fevers, sweats, headaches and other symptoms and can affect humans and animals like cattle, sheep and pigs.
Scientist calls suspension devastating
Splitter says the suspension of his research privileges is unfair and devastating for his career. He says the unauthorized experiments involving an infectious disease in his laboratory was a failure of university oversight. He says UW-Madison's attempts to improve training on federal regulations and hire more lab inspectors since the experiments shows "it was a university failure."
Splitter says he is facing consequences for reporting the experiments. He says he would like to challenge his discipline in court but lacks the financial resources to keep fighting.
University professor barred from lab over unauthorized bioterror agent experiments
by Ted Purlain on May 18, 2010
Laboratory privileges for a University of Wisconsin - Madison professor have been suspended for five years after he was found to have conduct unauthorized experiments with potential bioterror agents. ...
Brucellosis, which was the first agent weaponized by the United States at its Pine Bluff Arsenal in Arkansas in 1954, is usually found in farm animals but can be spread to humans. The disease causes flu-like symptoms. ...
Splitter, a tenured professor, told the Wisconsin State Journal that he was unaware of the unauthorized experiments, which he says were conducted by graduate students in his lab. Splitter also said that the university failed to properly educate researchers about guidelines for working with antibiotic-resistant strains.
University officials, however, contend that Splitter created antibiotic-resistant strains of brucellosis that were inserted into mice in 2007 and possibly earlier. The work was done without approval from local or federal agencies.
The unauthorized research was found following university-wide lab inspections by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which began in early 2008. Evidence gathered by the investigation revealed that Splitter's claim that he was unaware of the research was false.
Splitter's confiscated e-mails gave him away:
" ... The Wisconsin State Journal reports that Dr. Splitter, a member of UW-Madison’s Biosafety Committee, denies knowledge of his graduate student’s experiments – but email records indicate otherwise. ... "
Ironically, Gary Splitter has been a lab regulator himself:
Suspended UW researcher served On biosafety panel
“His experiments could result in an influenza pandemic and they were reviewed by a man who - depending on which story you believe - either didn't know what was going on in his lab or who willfully disregarded safety rules,” Hammond told the AP. ...
The university’s biosafety commission is responsible for ensuring that potentially dangerous research takes place in secure facilities in compliance with federal regulations.
Splitter's three-year appointment on the safety panel was “like having criminals run the parole board," Edward Hammond, the former director of the Sunshine Project, a research watchdog group, told the AP. ...
A professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who was recently suspended for unauthorized experiments was also a member of the school’s biosafety commission, according to an Associated Press report released this week. ...
So, who has - and still may be - funding Splitter's work with brucella?:
Splitter, Gary - "We have produced substantial results related to the objectives of our Department of Defense funding: (1) Identified five Brucella proteins and sequenced their respective genes (L71L12, LlO, uvrA ,... "
Let's see, now ... brucella bacteria was weaponized by the DoD ... and Splitter - a scientist with a history of DoD funding for this line of research - lied about his involvement in illicit experiments that led to his dismissal. Did he also lie about his reasons for working with an antibuitic-resistant strain, and if so, did these have anything to do with the DoD?
- Alex Constantine