Welcome to the latest edition of Investigative Roundup, gathering some of the best investigative reporting on healthcare each week.
Sex, Lies, and a U.N. Whistleblower?
A United Nations whistleblower who worked for the organization’s global AIDS program is part of a misconduct investigation, according to documents obtained by the Associated Press.
Last year, Martina Brostrom publicly accused Luiz Loures, a top official at UNAIDS, of sexual harassment and attempting to drag her from a hotel elevator. After Brostrom went public with her story, two other women came forward with similar accusations that influenced Sweden — UNAIDS’ second-biggest donor — to pull $30 million in funding.
An investigation found insufficient evidence to back Brostrom’s account, and then she and a former supervisor became enmeshed in controversy of their own: specifically misusing travel funds, according to a World Health Organization inquiry. WHO investigators wrote that Brostrom and the supervisor may have “request[ed] special U.N. rates when booking hotels for the purpose of having sexual encounters” and that they used work emails “to exchange messages with explicit sexual language, profanity, and nudity.”
The WHO probe was put on hold in 2016 after Brostrom requested whistleblower protection as her sexual harassment claims were investigated. Although Loures retired last March, the case against him was reopened. Meanwhile, the investigation into Brostrom and her supervisor will continue “as soon as appropriate,” a spokeswoman told the AP.
Mom on Trial for Diabetes Denial Death
Amber Hampshire, a mother from Alton, Illinois, whose daughter died after going into a diabetic coma, went on trial this week for involuntary manslaughter and endangering the life of a child. Prosecutors say she hid the girl’s type 1 diabetes for 5 years and kept her from being treated, KSDK News reports.
Last fall, 14-year-old Emily Hampshire was rushed to a local hospital then life-flighted to Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital in St. Louis, dying 2 days later from diabetic ketoacidosis. Detectives said doctors at Cardinal Glennon became suspicious of the mother, Amber Hampshire, after she refused to allow her daughter’s medical records to be transferred.
Court documents obtained by KSDK News say the girl was twice diagnosed with diabetes but her mother insisted they were wrong. Emily’s school had received one of the diagnoses; Amber Hampshire told officials there to disregard it.
She faces decades in prison if convicted.
Desperately Seeking Research Data
Developed by diagnostics firm Beckman Coulter, the Prostate Health Index is an “FDA-approved blood test to be used as an aid in distinguishing prostate cancer from benign prostatic conditions,” according to the firm’s website.
As physicians debated PSA’s utility as a prostate cancer screen, clinical studies suggested the Prostate Health Index did better at identifying men who actually had the disease, but real-world studies were lacking. Beckman Coulter then funded a study on patients seen routinely at urology clinics. The results appeared to be everything the company could hope for: fewer patients had biopsies and fewer were diagnosed with low-grade tumors “best left undetected,” according to STAT.
But a group at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center noticed that the results, published in Prostate Cancer and Prostatic Diseases, didn’t indicate how many patients were found to have more aggressive cancers. They wrote a letter to the journal; study authors acknowledged that those data were collected but insisted the study wasn’t equipped to answer questions about the test’s accuracy for high-grade tumors. For its part, Beckman Coulter declined to release the missing data.
While no one is arguing that the Prostate Health Index is harmful, ethicists and experts are concerned about corporate interests obfuscating scientific studies.
Stanford Says Prof Didn’t Aid Chinese Gene Editing
Stanford University professor Stephen Quake, suspected of helping Chinese scientist He Jiankui in his widely criticized experiments that led to gene-edited babies, has now been cleared of wrongdoing, the New York Times reported.
The investigation was prompted by correspondence from He’s university in China to the president of Stanford, obtained by the Times, regarding Quake’s involvement that alleged: “Prof. Stephen Quake provided instructions to the preparation and implementation of the experiment, the publication of papers, the promotion and news release, and the strategies to react after the news release … violated the internationally recognized academic ethics and codes of conduct, and must be condemned.”
Quake denied the allegations of unethical behavior and provided emails exchanged with He to prove his innocence. Quake said he warned He against proceeding with the project when he first heard about it in 2016.
Stanford investigated and, on Tuesday, determined “that Quake observed proper scientific protocol” and did not “participate in any way in [He’s] research, including in the conception or performance of the work.”