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Whistleblower Points Out Problems with "Community" Cancer Research Sites

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Two years after becoming vice president for research at Carle Foundation Hospital in Urbana, Illinois, Dr. Suzanne Stratton decided to put her foot down. After repeatedly clashing with doctors who oversaw patients enrolled in more than 130 federally sponsored cancer studies, Dr. Stratton had enough. She knew that there were “major deficiencies” in 12 out of the 29 experiments being overseen by the doctor that she argued with. In fact, those “major deficiencies” included serious risks to patients, as well as risks to science, because the doctors in charge of the studies were eager to publish results. However, when she decided to speak out against the situation, she was immediately fired and ushered out of the hospital the same day.

Community research sites, like Carle Foundation Hospital, are responsible for much of the current treatments for prostate, lung, and breast cancers. While most people assume that most research developments come out of major cancer centers like Memorial Sloan Kettering, this isn’t always the case. Primarily, this is because most of the patients at the smaller “community” sites are representative of the general population: they tend to be older, less affluent, and more diverse than those treated at big academic medical centers. However, the problem is that federal officials have never conducted systematic reviews on these “community” research sites.

But now federal officials are catching on to the problems that Dr. Stratton witnessed at the Carle Foundation Hospital, too. Alerted by Dr. Stratton, federal officials are continuing her investigation into the nation’s cancer research efforts at various hospitals, and not just at Carle Cancer Center. In fact, the federal Office for Human Research Protections is investigating the nearly 400 federally designated community research sites nationwide. While Carle executives declined to comment, federal authorities are taking a step in the right direction, according to Dr. Stratton. Primarily, she wants to make sure that patients are safe during the trials. Additionally, she maintains that it is important that the integrity of data is preserved so that community hospitals aren’t producing “results” that aren’t really effective in treating cancer.