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Scientists Call for Inquiry into Destruction of Microbes in VA Special Pathogens Laboratory  

233 scientists and physician researchers from 27 countries have collectively expressed outrage over the destruction of an irreplaceable collection of microbes numbering in the thousands.   The collection included Legionella bacteria (the cause of Legionnaires’ disease) and many other species of pathogens causing disease in humans including antibiotic resistant strains of Pseudomonas, Klebsiella, fungi, etc. The scientific collection had been accumulated over 25 years from numerous international studies by Victor L. Yu M.D., Professor of Medicine, University of Pittsburgh, Janet E. Stout Ph.D., Director, Special Pathogens Laboratory and scientific researchers throughout the world.

Members of the infectious disease community have now petitioned congress and the Department of Veterans Affairs Healthcare System to conduct an independent investigation of the Pittsburgh VA administration and its role in the destruction of these valuable research materials.  The following prominent physicians have headed the petition drive: Dr. David Snydman, Chief of Infectious Diseases, Tufts University Boston, MA, Dr. Elias Anaissie, Chief, Division of Cancer Supportive Care, University of Arkansas Medical Center, Little Rock, AK and Dr. George Sarosi, Professor of Medicine, Indiana University School of Medicine and former Chief of Medicine at the VA Medical Center, Indianapolis, IN.  The signatories of the petition included physicians and researchers from 30 states and 27 countries.  Interestingly, the largest single contingency was 47 VA physicians from 31 VA healthcare facilities.   Some of these VA investigators participated in a recently published study of hospital-acquired Legionnaires’ disease authored by Drs. Yu and Stout.  As a result of this study, the VA is now revising its policy regarding the prevention of this waterborne disease.  The Pittsburgh VA administration destroyed all the Legionella isolates, including those collected from patients and water sources from this VA-supported study.  According to one signatory, this action “is just appalling ignorance and irresponsibility”.  Dr. Anaissie stated “The destruction of this treasure trove of pathogens is a scientific disaster.   The tragedy is that the actions of those that gave the order for destruction are completely ignorant about the seriousness of this breach of trust and the implications for all patients – including VA patients.” 

In a letter to Sen. Arlen Specter, the Pittsburgh VA justified the action by stating that the specimens were unlabelled, a claim that Drs. Yu and Stout reject.  Dr. Yu noted that “These specimens were shared with other scientists from around the world, something impossible to do if they were not meticulously catalogued.”  Moreover, the Pittsburgh VA Research Department was ready to release the collection to a laboratory at the University of Pittsburgh.  Drs. Stout and Yu were assured that the VA would facilitate the transfer.  Only later was it disclosed that the collection had been destroyed without even informing Drs. Yu and Stout.


  VA Petition