After Suicide, Regulators Stop Institute's Research on People

Professor running depression trials resigns from Columbia
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 11, 2023 4:40 PM CDT
After Suicide, Regulators Stop Institute's Research on People
The seal for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services   (AP Photo/Jacqueline Larma, File)

After the suicide of a participant, the federal government has shut down research on human subjects at the New York State Psychiatric Institute, which is affiliated with Columbia University. The Department of Health and Human Services' Office for Human Research Protections has launched an investigation of the institute's safety protocols, a spokesperson said, "and has restricted its ability to conduct HHS-supported human subject research." The leader of the research has resigned from the institute and Columbia, where he was an associate professor of psychiatry, since the death, the New York Times reports.

Dr. Bret Rutherford was testing a drug to treat Parkinson's disease, levodopa, for use against depression and reduced mobility in older people. The institute spokesperson would not confirm the death, citing patient privacy laws, but said changes have been made. Nearly all research involving people as subects was stopped in early June, the institute said, per CNN. Documents show Rutherford enrolled 51 people 60 and older to test whether levodopa, a central nervous system drug, could alleviate depression late in life. The group later was reduced to 31. New York state's Office of Mental Health, which runs the institute, wants federal approval for a new research safety plan that would allow federally funded studies to restart. Rutherford received 32 grants totaling more than $15.5 million from the National Institutes of Health since 2010. (More medical research stories.)

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