Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Psyched Out: Brown's Marty Keller to Step Down

Yet another prominent academic is being replaced as a psychiatry department chair and the move coincides with an investigation by the U.S. Senate Finance Committee into conflicts of interest. The latest resignation involves Brown University's Martin Keller, who will step aside at the end of June, according to a memo issued on Monday by Edward J. Wing, the dean of medicine and biological sciences at the Brown's Warren Alpert Medical School (here's the back story). He'll be replaced by Steven A. Rasmussen.

In recent months, Emory University's Charles Nemeroff stepped down as chair of his psychiatry department and Stanford University's Alan Schatzberg resigned as lead investigator of an NIH grant. (UPDATE: We neglected to note that Stanford is also searching for a new chair, although a Stanford spokesman say the two events are unrelated). What Nemeroff and Schatzberg have in common with Keller is a probe spearheaded by U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley, who is upset that some academics are simultaneously accepting pharma industry consulting fees and grants while also conducting NIH research into various meds sold by various drugmakers (see here).

Since 1995, an NIH regulation has required scientists to report to their universities any “significant financial interests” they hold in research projects financed by the agency. Those are defined as income or equity interest of $10,000 from a company or 5-percent ownership of its stock. The universities, in turn, are required to tell the NIH whether they were able to manage or eliminate the conflicts in order to avoid bias in the research findings. The probe has also pressured the NIH into making personnel changes (see here).

As for Keller, the Brown psychiatrist is a controversial figure for his role in studying Glaxo’s Paxil antidepressant. Why? He was the lead author of an infamous study published in 2001 in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry that Paxil was “generally well tolerated and effective for major depression in adolescents.” The study was used to widely promote the pill, which became a huge seller, but was plagued by ghostwriting charges, and results were worse than imagined.

For the record, Brown made no mention of the Senate probe. And a Brown University spokesman maintains Keller submitted a letter in August 2007 in which he indicated plans to resign this year. In any event, Wing did write the following: "During Dr. Keller's tenure the department has been widely acknowledged as one of the top ten psychiatry departments in the country. It is currently one of the largest departments in the Division of Biology and Medicine in terms of full time faculty members as well as external funding. Please join me in thanking Dr. Keller for his many accomplishments and fine leadership as chair."


For the students said...

A case study for the diagnostician...

In Progress* is a Brown University medical school department newsletter. The newsletter is described in a shaded box on the last page:

“In Progress is published by the Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior, Brown University. . .

Information about publications, awards, etc. is compiled primarily from faculty submissions. The Editor also collects information from online and print sources.”

Conspicuously prominent in the Winter 2009 issue of In Progress are photos in which the chair of the department appears as well as a plethora of news on the activities of faculty members. Conspicuously overlooked are the activities of students. Wait a minute; isn’t a medical teacher’s success measured by the accomplishments of his students? To be fair, two of six issues posted on the department Web site gave students a good bit of attention.**

Anyone, what does this say about administrators who work in this medical school department?



And, for the record, the senator is not the only one upset by the negative effects of conflicts of interest on health care. Click on For the students for more.

For the students said...

All six issues of In Progress may be downloaded from this page:

vicky said...

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