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Could checking the evidence first have prevented a death?

‘In a tragic situation that could have been averted, Ellen Roche, a healthy, 24-year-old volunteer in an asthma study at Johns Hopkins University, died in June [2001] because a chemical she had been asked to inhale led to the progressive failure of her lungs and kidneys.

In the aftermath of this loss, it would appear that the researcher who conducted the experiment and the ethics panel that approved it allegedly overlooked numerous clues about the dangers of the chemical, hexamethonium, given to Roche to inhale. Adding particular poignancy to the case is that evidence of the chemical’s dangers could easily have been found in the published literature.

The Baltimore Sun concluded that while the supervising physician, Dr. Alkis Togias, made “a good-faith effort” to research the drug’s adverse effects, his search apparently focused on a limited number of resources, including PubMed, which is searchable only back to 1966. Previous articles published in the 1950s, however, with citations in subsequent publications, warned of lung damage associated with hexamethonium.’

Perkins E. Johns Hopkins Tragedy. Information Today 2001;18:51-4.

Read more in:  Wasted resources in healthcare and research.