Appellate Court Sides With Washington University In Fight Over Blood And Tissue Samples

Friday, June 22nd 2007, 7:09 am
By: News On 6

ST. LOUIS (AP) _ A federal appeals court has ruled in favor of a university that sued a prominent researcher after he tried to take a collection of lab specimens with him when he moved to another institution.

Blood and tissue samples donated to Washington University belong to the institution _ not Dr. William Catalona or the donors, the 8th U.S. Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday.

Catalona, who directs the prostate cancer program at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine, said Thursday he was considering appealing the decision, which he called ``a step backward in ethical human subjects research.''

Dr. Larry Shapiro, dean of Washington University's School of Medicine, called the ruling precedent-setting. He said it assures the right of research institutions to use repositories without fear they will be taken or disrupted.

A dozen major research universities, as well as the American Cancer Society and associations of medical colleges and universities, had filed ``friend of the court'' briefs supporting the St. Louis school.

Catalona criticized the court's finding that patients had no right to transfer ownership of their donations.

He said Washington University should have respected the wishes of 6,000 patients who ``took the trouble to request'' in writing that their samples be transferred to his care.

A three-judge panel of the appeals court upheld a lower court ruling last year that a vast collection of lab specimens donated to Washington University's biorepository could not be transferred.

The collection, among the world's largest, includes more than 270,000 blood and tissue samples from 30,000-plus donors and has been used for groundbreaking work.

Catalona used it to show that prostate-specific antigen was a first-line screening test for prostate cancer, which he reported in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1991.

When Catalona decided to resign in 2003, he asked donors if they would transfer their biological materials to his care and research at Northwestern.

About 6,000 agreed. Washington University sued in federal court, claiming rightful ownership. After the district court ruled for Washington University last year, Catalona and several donors appealed.