House Criticizes VA for Destroying Specimens
Members of Congress weighed in today on the destruction two years ago of thousands of biomedical specimens on Legionnaires' and other infectious diseases, criticizing the decision to destroy more than 25 years' worth of irreplaceable samples, The Associated Press reports.
According to a staff report from the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee of the House Science and Technology Committee, laboratory staff was ordered to destroy a "unique collection" of specimens compiled by two prominent researchers. The specimens, according to the report, were "particularly valuable because it was not a simple collection of disease strains" but correlated to clinical outcomes.
Michael Moreland, who headed the VA's Pittsburgh Healthcare System at the time, defended the decision to close the Special Pathogens Lab and destroy the specimens, saying the lab wasn't approved to do the work; that specimens were not labeled and were considered hazardous; and that the lab was operating an unauthorized commercial enterprise to test water for private companies, the AP reports.
The chairman of the House Science subcommitee, Rep. Brad Miller, D-N.C., said he saw no "credible reason" for the December 2006 destruction of the samples. The congressional report said the collection contained 8,000 disease, serum, respiratory and urine samples, gathered between 1979 and 2006.
"All of us may pay a price for this conduct, veterans most of all," Miller said.
Dr. Victor Yu, professor of medicine at the University of Pittsburgh and formerly the chief of infectious diseases at the VA center, called the destruction of the specimens that he had collected with Dr. Janet Stout, "a terrible tragedy."
Yu and Stout originally helped identify Legionnaires' disease, a form of pneumonia which first cropped up at an American Legion convention in Philadelphia in 1976.
Researchers around the world "were outraged" by the VA's action, and hundreds signed a petition asking for an independent investigation, according to the congressional report.
"It is breathtaking that a federal health agency official would order the destruction of a human tissue specimen collection without discussing it with and receiving approval of the agency's research officials," the report said. "It is even more breathtaking that the top officials ... have taken no formal action since to make sure that such an action never occurs again."
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