Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Top Scientist at Centre of a 'Tissues' Scare Sparks Calls for a Major Investigation

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Top Scientist at Centre of a 'Tissues' Scare Sparks Calls for a Major Investigation

Article excerpt

Byline: Kate Proctor ? 0191 201 6106 ?

HUMAN tissue samples may have been used in unauthorised scientific experiments at a Newcastle hospital, it was revealed last night.

Fears have emerged after clinical scientist Dr Morteza Pourfarzam was struck off by the Health and Care Professional Council for a "deliberate, sophisticated and dishonest acts of theft" from Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals' NHS Trust between 2004 and 2008.

At his disciplinary hearing, it emerged the rogue scientist worked for the Trust but was secretly freelancing for other private organisations abroad and putting the money earned - up to PS200,000 - into a bank account only he had access to.

To cover up his deceit, he sent medical samples to overseas companies by Royal Mail, rather than using accepted practices for transferring medical materials. It is thought those samples may have been human - either in the form of blood, saliva or tissues - or from animals.

But because the Trust has not been prepared to comment on the matter it is not known exactly what the samples were, where they were obtained from, where they were sent to, or for what purpose.

Newcastle East MP Nick Brown has called for the matter to be investigated by the police, describing the doctor's actions as "unethical" and "unacceptable".

The disciplinary council's panel sitting in London heard how the doctor, once described as "seminal" for his groundbreaking research in the early 2000s into the detection of metabolic disorders in children, deposited the money he made from his work for overseas companies into a bank account only he had access to. The theft was uncovered when the Trust discovered two cheques between February and August 2008 from "external third parties" made out to Newcastle University's former Spence Biomedical Genetics Unit, a unit that ceased to operate in 2004.

Dr Pourfarzam is known to have carried out research into the neonatal screening of babies with disorders relating to their metabolism, before he worked for the Trust between 2000 and 2001. But the nature of the work he was carrying out for external companies between 2004 and 2008 has not been released by the Trust.

Academic papers he published during those years include work on plasma and proteomics, the analysis of proteins in biological systems.

His laboratory is believed to have been at Newcastle's Royal Victoria Infirmary, where part of the Department of Clinical Biochemistry is based.

The Panel report said: "Dr Pourfarzam gave evidence that he packaged the non-UK samples. He would take the packages to his local Post Office branch to send them. In the Panel's view this unusual conduct demonstrated a need to hide his dishonest activities from the eyes of others at the Trust. The Panel also noted that Dr Pourfarzam had taken very little time off work. This gave very little opportunity for his private, unauthorised work to be discovered."

He was found to be unable to answer questions on where the monies had gone and why he had not re-paid them.

In addition, when asked about any personal or financial link to a laboratory he used in Iran, where he now lives, in the Panel's opinion, he started to give a convoluted answer involving work he was doing associated with Denmark.

Civil court judges have ordered Dr Pourfarzam to repay PS106,907, although it was noted during the hearing the amount owed to the Trust and the University was about PS200,000. …

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