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Suicide prompts HHS to halt Columbia-linked depression trial

Doctor and professor who led the study resigned from his position at Columbia 

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services stopped all research studies involving human subjects at a psychiatric institute associated with Columbia University following the suicide of person participating in the research who had been taking a placebo.

The HHS’s Office for Human Research Protections “has restricted [the] ability to conduct HHS-supported human subject research” of The New York State Psychiatric Institute, CNN reported Friday. The institute is located at the Columbia University Irving Medical Center and is affiliated with the university.

“The Office for Human Research Protections (OHRP) is committed to protecting the rights, welfare, and well-being of people participating in research conducted by or supported by HHS. OHRP takes very seriously the protection of people who volunteer for research studies and has procedures to ensure that those protections are in place,” a HHS spokesperson told CNN.

The Institute voluntarily ceased all human subject research in June, approximately two weeks prior to the HHS’s withdrawal of funding.

The study participant, involved in testing a Parkinson’s drug for depression, committed suicide while enrolled in the study and was part of the group taking a placebo, research documents stated.

The institute could not “provide specific details about any individual involved in a research study,” it told CNN.

Dr. Bret Rutherford, a former associate professor of psychiatry at Columbia who led the study, resigned from his job at the psychiatric institute and is no longer on the Columbia faculty, the institute told CNN.

Rutherford has received approximately $15 million in funding from National Institute of Mental Health since 2010, according to public records.

The patient who committed suicide while on the placebo was in a clinical trial for the central nervous system drug Levodopa, which is being investigated as a treatment for depression experienced later in life, according to clinicaltrials.gov.

Rutherford attempted to recruit 90 adults ages 60 or older with depressive disorder, decreased processing speed or decreased gait speed for an eight-week trial, according to CNN.

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