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Medical centre recalls potentially infected body parts

BMJ 2002; 325 doi: (Published 17 August 2002) Cite this as: BMJ 2002;325:356
  1. Deborah Josefson
  1. Nebraska

    A Texas medical centre has issued a recall of body parts it sent out to some 60 research centres across the United States, warning that it cannot ensure that the tissues were properly tested for infectious diseases such as HIV and hepatitis.

    The recall affects cadaveric unembalmed body parts donated to the University of Texas's medicalbranch at Galveston under its willed body programme between November 2000 and May 2002. The willedbody programme receives about 300 donated cadavers a year and allocates them to its anatomy department for teaching medical students and to research centres across the country.

    The disclosure comes in the wake of an ongoing investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation into the handling of body parts donated to the programme. The investigation was launched in May after a routine audit showed that an employee at the institution may have sold some body parts for personal gain and mixed up the remains of others. Family members of the donors may therefore have received the wrong cremated remains.

    The audit also disclosed that the employee, Allen Tyler Jr, kept such poor records that it was impossible to ascertain which, if any, of the tissues were tested for infectious diseases. While there is as yet no evidence that the tissues were processed for transplantation or for use in biosynthetic composites, the FBI is actively investigating that possibility.

    Suspicion regarding Mr Tyler's activities first arose in February 2002 when a news-paper in Riverside, California, mentioned him as a paid consultant for a company accused of brokering body parts.

    Mr Tyler, a long time employee of the university's medical branch, was fired in May from his position as supervisor of anatomical services, where he was responsible for the cataloguing, dismemberment, and handling of cadaveric body parts.

    In a statement Steven Lieberman, associate dean for educational affairs at the medical branch, said, “We deeply regret this has happened. We make no excuses for it.” The medical centre has suspended its willed body programme pending the outcome of the investigation.

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