CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - Marshall University has recruited a noted surgeon who ran into trouble experimenting with human brains using bowel bacteria but will continue the same research on rats under tight restrictions.
Dr. Paul Muizelaar and another doctor left the University of California, Davis, in 2013 after officials concluded their actions violated the school’s code of conduct. Muizelaar had been the university’s neurosurgery chief for 15 years.
At Marshall University in Huntington, neuroscience chief Dr. Anthony Alberico’s interest in recommending Muizelaar’s hiring last year was based in part on the sports analogy that if a star free agent is available, go after him.
Muizelaar’s resume includes dozens of published research articles on head trauma and participating on numerous committees and grant and review panels, including the National Institutes of Health.
“He’s what everybody else should be in research,” Alberico said. “There’s nobody on our faculty that even approaches his scientific accomplishment. I look at it as an opportunity at Marshall to get someone of his stature here.
“I thought his misfortune could be our fortune because I think it’s very difficult in Huntington and Marshall to recruit high-powered people. It’s sad to say, but not everybody wants to move to Appalachia.”
Because Muizelaar didn’t attend medical school in the United States - he graduated from the University of Amsterdam in 1974 - he didn’t meet the criteria for a full license from the West Virginia Board of Medicine.
The state board gave him a two-year “extraordinary” license that must be renewed every two years. Board executive director Robert C. Knittle said Muizelaar is restricted to “valid, acceptable” surgical procedures that are credentialed at Marshall and Cabell Huntington Hospital facilities.
Cabell Huntington announced Muizelaar’s hiring at the hospital and at Marshall earlier this year without specifying his previous work experience. But Muizelaar had been on campus at least five months before that. The minutes of a Marshall Faculty Senate meeting from last September indicated Muizelaar in attendance. Muizelaar is listed as one of 18 Faculty Senate members representing the Marshall School of Medicine.
A message left with Faculty Senate chair Larry Stickler wasn’t returned.
At UC Davis, the live bowel bacteria had been purchased for study involving lab rats. But Muizelaar and the other doctor introduced the bacteria into open head wounds on a man and two women in 2010 and 2011. Each had been diagnosed with glioblastoma, a highly malignant brain tumor. Muizelaar said all three consented to the procedures, which were done with the hope that their immune systems would be stimulated.
A UC Davis statement said internal investigations found school policies were circumvented, research regulations were violated and directives made by university leaders were defied.
Although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not approved the implantation of bowel bacteria for use in humans, Muizelaar said he received consent from a university review board’s director to treat the first two patients. Treatment on the third patient was done without the director’s consent because the patient’s condition required emergency surgery, Muizelaar said.
Two patients died within weeks of their procedures. The other lived for more than a year.
Muizelaar said he was not conducting human research on unsuspecting patients but was trying to prolong individual lives. He still defends the work.
“The majority of doctors try to help patients, sometimes in unusual ways,” he said. “Sometimes doctors hope to hit it big, if you can find a drug that you can make millions on. But the treatment that I proposed, there is not a dime to be made on that treatment.”
At Marshall, where he’s a full professor in the neuroscience department, Muizelaar, 68, has received a private grant to continue his brain tumor research using live animals.
Asked if he would do it again on humans, Muizelaar said, “Of course I’ve learned from this experience. Although I feel I got permission twice to do it, I’d probably also would try to get permission from the FDA. It’s extremely unlikely that it would happen.”
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