The University Record, September 6, 1994

Committee to determine if U was involved in radiation studies

The University has established a fact-finding committee to gather information on any possible involvement of the Uni-versity with respect to federally sponsored human radiation studies conducted between 1930 and 1974.

Creation of the committee, chaired by pathology Prof. Gerald D. Abrams, is in response to a federal Advisory Committee on Human Radiation Experiments that is looking into human radiation studies carried out or sponsored by the U.S. government during and after World War II.

The government committee has listed the U-M among 45 institutions where such federal research may have been conducted. In addition to working with the federal committee to determine what information from the University will assist the committee, the U-M group will “gather documentary information and oral histories ... with regard to research or investigative use of radiation by the U-M on patients or volunteers between 1944 and 1974.”

The federal committee was established in January to provide advice and recommendations on the ethical and scientific standards applicable to human radiation experiments carried out or sponsored by the U.S. government.

As used in the committee’s charge, “human radiation experiments” means:

  • Experiments on individuals involving intentional exposure to ionizing radiation. (This category does not include common and routine clinical practices, such as established diagnosis and treatment methods, involving incidental exposures to ionizing radiation.)

  • Experiments involving intentional environmental releases of radiation that were designed to test human health effects of ionizing radiation or that were designed to test the extent of human exposure to ionizing radiation.

    The federal committee was charged with determining the ethical and scientific standards and criteria used to evaluate human radiation experiments, including whether there was a clear medical or scientific purpose for the experiments; whether appropriate medical follow-up was conducted; and whether the experiments’ design and administration adequately met the ethical and scientific standards, including standards of informed consent, that prevailed at the time of the experiments and that exist today.

    The federal committee has indicated there are two cryptic references to the U-M in the masses of material it has been reviewing:

  • Notes from a 1967 audit provided by the Atomic Energy Commission and NASA indicate that information concerning 128 unspecified treatments at the U-M was provided to the government at some time. (No information is given on the number of patients involved, the treatment they received, the purpose of the treatments or the doses of radiation.)

  • The second report, compiled in 1975 by a review panel in Oak Ridge, Tenn., includes the University in its Appendix A as one of 46 “Cooperating Institutions in Retrospective Studies.” The federal committee feels that the University’s inclusion on the list may indicate that it received some government funding for information on radiation procedures conducted between 1944 and 1974.

    Neither the government committee nor the U-M are currently aware of other information on these studies.

    Abrams says the committee “hopes to complete its research as quickly as possible.”

    He says that “preliminary investigation has indicated that human exposure to radiation at the U-M occurred primarily in the diagnosis and treatment of disease. During the years in question, U-M researchers were on the cutting edge of the development of techniques for using radiation in diagnosis and treatment, which set the stage for our modern-day medical use of radiation.”

    Although the charge to the federal committee excluded the use of radiation in medical treatments, Abrams says, “We’re interested for our own benefit in gathering historical information about the work done at the U-M.”

    Other members of the committee, which will be coordinated by the Office of the Vice President for Research, are: James E. Carey Jr., assistant professor of radiation physics and chair of the University’s Radiation Policy Committee; Joel D. Howell, associate professor of internal medicine and of history; Kimberlee J. Kearfott, professor of nuclear engineering; Steven L. Kunkel, professor of pathology and interim associate vice president for research; Nicholas H. Steneck, professor of history and director of the U-M Historical Center for the Health Sciences; and Eloise Culmer Whitten of Detroit, a full-time professional volunteer and human services advocate.

    The committee has been asked to prepare a status report by Oct. 15 and a final report preferably no later than the end of fall term.