Vigil to recall U drug trial patient's death; students demand thorough inquiry

University of Minnesota students and faculty plan a noon vigil on Friday to remember the 2004 suicide of a university drug trial patient.

Thursday marks 10 years since the death of Dan Markingson, a 26-year old man suffering from schizophrenia who enrolled in a clinical test of an anti-psychotic drug. The U carried out the trials, which were funded by drug maker AstraZeneca.

Vigil leaders are calling for an independent investigation into Markingson's death, saying prior reviews have been weak.

They also want the U to release of the number of deaths and significant injuries suffered by research subjects since 1999, the year the current head of the psychiatry department took his post.

A proper review of the Markingson case "has not taken place," first-year medical student and vigil co-organizer Eden Almasude said. The university "wants to wait it out and hope people forget about it."

The vigil is being led by the Students for a Democratic Society as well as the local student chapter of Physicians for Human Rights. The gathering will take place in front of the McNamara Alumni Center, where university regents that day will hold their regular meeting. Almasude estimated that between 20 and 50 participants will show up.

Critics say university researchers exploited Markingson, enrolling him in the trial despite the concerns of his mother and then ignoring her warnings that Markingson might kill himself. They've questioned the credibility and depth of the inquires into his death.

University leaders have long said that independent investigations have found no wrongdoing.

In December, President Eric Kaler agreed to an outside review of clinical research practices at the U.

Since then, university bioethics professor Leigh Turner -- a well as alumni and other academics -- have raised concerns that the U has no intention of getting to the bottom of the matter.

They've criticized the U's method of selecting someone to conduct the review. They say the university is relying on its process for finding standard service contractors, and that it won't attract those with the skills necessary to do a thorough job.

Brian Lucas, senior director of communications for the university's academic health center, declined to comment in detail on the matter. He said the case has already been credibly investigated, and that university officials have already commented on the matter in years past.

A consultant for Kaler's review will be chosen in a few weeks, and that the U won't just rely on its contractor-bidding process, he added. Faculty leaders are helping select a contractor who "will be charged with conducting a thorough, independent and transparent review." University bioethics professor Carl Elliott, who plans to speak at the vigil, said the release of death and injury numbers is important.

"The bigger question," he said, "is how many Dan Markingsons have there been?"

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