Doctors quit project in ethics row

A S$10mil (RM22mil) research project at the National Neuroscience Institute was suspended and two top doctors resigned, after alleging that medical research ethics were breached. 

The government-funded project tracks mutations in the DNA of epilepsy and Parkinson’s patients, in the hope of finding a cure, said The Sunday Times

It has been alleged that researchers had gone behind doctors’ backs to get the blood samples directly from patients. This breached patient confidentiality. 

It has also been alleged that the patients were not told why their blood was being taken and thought that their own doctors had asked for the samples. 

“The most glaring point is that the doctors treating the patients were not informed that their patients’ blood were being used for research,” Dr Michael Yap, chairman of the institute’s executive committee, was quoted as saying. 

According to guidelines drawn up by the Bioethics Advisory Committee, tissue samples should only be taken from patients who have consented after the medical facts and risks were explained to them. 

The two doctors who resigned were clinical deputy director Associate Prof Lee Wei Ling and deputy director for research Dr Yee Woon Chee. 

The institute’s director, Prof Simon Shorvon, is heading the institute's projects. 

Dr Michael Yap, who is leading the investigations, which started on Wednesday, said another group of doctors had expressed concern over the ethical issues to Prof Shorvon last month.  

He said the ethical issues persisted even though Prof Shorvon told the doctors that their concerns had been noted. 

The patients had been contacted at home by the researchers, who asked for their blood samples.  

When contacted, Prof Shorvon said: “In my opinion, the study procedures did not contravene what had been approved by the hospital’s ethics committee.” – The Sunday Times/Asia News Network  

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