Welcome to the latest edition of Investigative Roundup, highlighting some of the best investigative reporting on healthcare each week.
U.S. Suspends Wuhan Lab’s Funding
An HHS memo, first reported by Bloomberg and made public by a House subcommittee on Tuesday, said the facility was not complying with repeated requests from the National Institute of Health for research notebooks and other documents that would detail its safety practices, according to the Times.
The memo also stated that the NIH’s conclusion that the institute “likely violated protocols of the NIH regarding biosafety is undisputed.”
HHS notified the institute about the suspension, which would impose a 10-year ban on funding from the U.S. The institute had been granted $1.4 million in U.S. funding since 2014, though it has not received U.S. funds since 2020, according to reports.
While the Wuhan-based institute has been at the center of the controversy around the origins of SARS-CoV-2, the U.S. has not found conclusive evidence that the facility played any role in its origins. However, U.S. officials have accused the Chinese government and the institute of stonewalling investigations.
‘Zombie’ Clinical Trials
About a quarter of clinical trials might be “zombie” trials, with results that are “impossible to trust” because of author incompetency or faked data, according to Nature.
John Carlisle, MD, an anesthesiologist who works for the U.K.’s National Health Service and who is an editor for the journal Anaesthesia, has scrutinized more than 500 studies as part of a plan to deeply assess all manuscripts he handled. He was able to get anonymized individual participant data (IPD) for more than 150 of those trials.
He found 44% of these trials contained “at least some flawed data: impossible statistics, incorrect calculations, or duplicated numbers or figures,” according to the article. About a quarter (26%) were fatally flawed because of author incompetence or fake data, he found.
Carlisle published his findings in Anaesthesia, calling the fatally flawed trials “zombies” because they merely resembled reliable studies but failed to meet the standards of true clinical research, according to the article.
Carlisle said he was more alarmed by another finding in his investigation, though. When he reviewed the manuscripts without the benefit of anonymized IPD, he found just 1% were “zombie”-like and only 2% contained flawed data. This suggested that without access to IPD, it’s especially hard to spot flaws.
Journal editors don’t usually request IPD, and thus reviewers don’t typically see it, the article noted.
Carlisle decided to reject every manuscript that proved to be a “zombie” trial, but he found that those papers were eventually published in other journals, sometimes with new data.
Wachter’s COVID Scare
Robert Wachter, MD, a prominent social media voice during the COVID-19 pandemic, has new advice for dealing with the disease after his first bout of COVID led to stitches, according to CNN.
Wachter, who is also the chair of medicine at the University of California San Francisco, announced last week on Twitter that he recently tested positive for COVID-19 for the first time. It started with a dry cough on July 9, then developed into flu-like symptoms, including fever, chills, and a sore throat.
But the real trouble started when Wachter attempted to take a shower the following day. He apparently fell and hit his head on the trash can after becoming weak from his illness and dehydration, he said. He woke up in a pool of his own blood on his bathroom floor with a noticeable dent in the trash can lid.
The fall resulted in a black eye and large cuts above his right eye and on the back of his head that required stitches. Wachter posted pictures of the aftermath of his fall and said he doesn’t remember anything about the incident before waking up on the floor.
Wachter returned home after a 24-hour stay in the emergency department and resumed isolating for his COVID infection. He took Paxlovid and noted he’s no longer a “NoVid.”
He ended his posts urging others to continue taking measures to avoid COVID-19 infection and said he has learned his lesson about being more cautious when experiencing flu-like symptoms.