given substance; rights groups irate
A controversial clinical
trial in which hundreds of people were unknowingly injected with an
experimental blood substitute primarily took place in cities with a
disproportionate number of minorities.
Thirteen of the 20 cities have higher minority populations than the national
average, including the small Illinois town of Maywood, where 83 percent of
the population is black, and Detroit.
In Detroit, at Detroit Receiving and Sinai-Grace hospitals, minorities
accounted for 15 of the 16 people unknowingly experimented on, records
obtained by the Free Press
Since urban areas with large minority populations tend to see more trauma
cases, it's often easier to target those areas for research, bioethicist
Harriet Washington said. But bioethicists argue that the tendency to choose
those areas over an abundance of trauma centers in predominately White
cities is unfair.
Civil-rights groups and bioethicists contend researchers are ethically
obligated to capture a representative sample of the country because the
products being studied are designed to benefit everyone.
In the study meant to combat a critical blood shortage, 13 cities combined
for an average minority population nearly twice the national average. The
blood substitute, Polyheme, is made by extracting oxygen-carrying hemoglobin
from human red blood cells. In the event of shortages, it would replace the
traditional treatment, a saline solution and blood.
People who unknowingly participated in the trial were unconscious because of
trauma, such as gunshot wounds and car crashes.
"We are an African-American community that has been treated like guinea
pigs," said the Rev. Charles Williams, president of the National Council for
Community Empowerment, a civil-rights group.
So far, studies have shown that recipients of the blood substitute faced
higher health risks than those who received the traditional treatment.
Results of the trial, released last year, showed 46 of the 349 subjects who
received Polyheme nationwide died. By contrast, 35 of the 363 patients given
the traditional treatment died. Two of the 10 people in Detroit injected
with Polyheme died. Both were Black.
Martha Milete, who is Hispanic, received Polyheme while being rushed to the
hospital after she was shot in the chest by an intruder in her Detroit home
in January 2006. She said it's unfair that most subjects were minorities.
"Whether I survived or not, it was wrong," Milete said.
The two deaths contradict Wayne State University's statement in May that
only one person who received Polyheme died. All six people given the
standard treatment for replacing lost blood survived.
Officials at Evanston, Ill.-based Northfield Laboratories, which created the
blood substitute, declined to comment. The company announced in September
that it plans to submit its findings for regulatory approval to market the