Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Dr. Naveen Sangji: require NIH to consider PI's funding records

Busy today, but I did want to take note that Dr. Naveen Sangji, the surviving sister of Sheharbano (Sheri) Sangji, gave a talk at ACS Boston on Monday. Rebecca Trager has thorough coverage in Chemistry World
‘We still await an outcry from university scientists at the loss of the life of a young scientist,’ she added. ‘Where are the letters from the award-winning researchers and Nobel laureates condemning the university and the principal investigator (PI) for the deliberate disregard of safety?’ 
Naveen went on to reveal new details about the case, relaying Sheri’s remarks in the hospital that Harran had asked her to perform large-scale experiments without appropriate equipment, which was packed away in boxes. ‘Sheri stated quite clearly at the burn centre that Patrick Harran had explicitly instructed her to carry out three transfers of 50 cc of t-butyl lithium using a 60 cc syringe,’ Naveen said. As for her sister’s failure to wear a lab coat during the fatal experiment, Naveen said she was likely never issued such equipment. 
In 2009, Naveen requested that the ACS Board make a public statement condemning Harran’s behaviour, which she claims includes destruction of evidence and refusal to make full disclosure. The organisation’s executive director and CEO at the time, Madeline Jacobs, declined to publicly comment on the matter. Naveen urged ACS’ current executive director and CEO, Thomas Connelly, to make such a statement, and go even further. 
Specifically, she wants Connelly to write an open letter to the head of the NIH, Francis Collins, advocating for that a PI’s safety record be considered in the agency’s peer review process. 
‘The ACS has tremendous power, and with that there is responsibility to protect the young scientist you hope to nurture,’ Naveen stated. ‘What the NIH adopts, other funding agencies will follow.’ She said that PIs are busy, and funding is chief among their priorities. ‘Tie funding and safety together, and change will happen overnight – future generations of scientists will be better protected than Sheri was,’ Naveen asserted.
More on this soon.  


  1. I think the title should be "safety records."

    This seems like a wholly intractable requirement. What was Harran's safety record prior to Sanji's death?

  2. Just to be perfectly clear, major, drastic policy changes should be initiated based on hearsay and speculation?

    Maybe MD's can donate the lab coats they wear as fashion accessories to graduate students who actually work in labs.

    1. You'd figure that when someone dies in your lab, though, you'd actually have more than just hearsay and speculation. Lack of information of lab safety is probably a sharper sword against Harran's lab (or other academic labs, most likely) then for them. (Contrast to the La Porte incident, as well, although that certainly implies the desire to ignore safety considerations in industry, as well.)

    2. Don't even get me started on the fashion accessory BS, this drives me f-ing nuts. It's so damn stupid how many pharmacy/physical therapy/chiropractor graduations end with a "white coat" ceremony. I WILL incite a riot if I start seeing designer lab coats in the mall.

    3. @Hap, yeah, at the 3 schools I've been at since this incident, it's been institutional policy that 1) everyone has a lab-coat and 2) there is documentation that everyone has received a lab-coat (e.g. POs on file that list the name of the person for whom the lab-coat has been ordered, e-mails to the dept. safety person from the end-user with their size preference, etc.).

      When this incident happened, there was no way it could be legally established that everyone in my grad lab had access to PPE (except for individuals with department-subsidized prescription safety glasses, and even then, the documentation was likely sketchy at best). Of course, with the really bad notebook keepers, you probably couldn't even legally establish that they had been working with BuLi, either, if something happened.

      If the decedent's sister had anything more than hearsay and speculation, the trial would have had a different outcome.

    4. I guess that's my point, though - with the La Porte mishap, we know most of what happened. I imagine that's true for lots of industrial safety mistakes. In academia, when something happens, we don't know anything about it other than rumor and innuendo, and don't care, and this is considered OK. At this point, I assume the lack of knowledge is worse than simple stupidity, more of the order of "we know this is a problem, but don't want to know anything that might make us have to correct the problem (or will allow us to avoid legal consequences for our unwillingness to correct the problem)". I don't know why that should be acceptable.

      You can't change what you don't know. The job of a PI is train students appropriately how to conduct research, and I assume that learning to survive to the end of a research project would be part of learning to conduct research. If it matters, people will learn it. In most academic labs (and some industrial ones), it doesn't.

  3. I think her proposal about linking NIH funding to safety is great, but just needs to be tweaked.
    For rDNA the NIH has linked biosafety with institutional funding, so I can see a similar system with chemical safety. The NIH would have to come up with some basic safety guidelines such as proper PPE, sufficient training, and working engineering controls, all oversaw by a institutional committee comprised of faculty, administrators, EH&S, and even possibly community members. The institution would then have to report non-compliance to NIH and face possible cutting of all. This could give EH&S personnel some actual leverage when dealing with PIs, and if a PI is threatening the entire institution's NIH funding then they wouldn't be defended so adamantly.

  4. At least she figured out enough to ask Executive Director and CEO Madeline Jacobs and Executive Director and CEO Tom Collins, not harangue this year's 'president' of the ACS. But then she's a doctor, probably pretty smart.

  5. Hi Anon 12:15 PM,
    yep, you're absolutely right on that one.

    To everyone else: what is stopping you from starting a petition? Of course, the petition would have to be addressed to those who have the real power in the ACS. Of course, the ACS has real power, because otherwise it could not afford the ridiculous salaries for Collins & Jacobs. The question is: to whose benefit is that power being used, considering that neither Collins nor Jacobs were elected by the members.

    Of course, too any such petition would need real names entered into it.