University professor barred from lab over unauthorized bioterror agent expirements

Laboratory privileges for a University of Wisconsin - Madison professor have been suspended for five years after he was found to have conduct unauthorized experiments with potential bioterror agents.

A worker in professor Gary Splitter's lab contracted the potential terror agent brucellosis, though university officials have said they do not know if the individual, who recovered, caught the strain from the unauthorized experiments.

Brucellosis, which was the first agent weaponized by the United States at its Pine Bluff Arsenal in Arkansas in 1954, is usually found in farm animals but can be spread to humans. The disease causes flu-like symptoms.

Splitter's 2007 experiments, which were called a "major action violation" by the National Institutes of Health, the Wisconsin State Journal reports, led to a $40,000 fine for the university, which has since increased its biological safety oversight.

Splitter, a tenured professor, told the Wisconsin State Journal that he was unaware of the unauthorized experiments, which he says were conducted by graduate students in his lab. Splitter also said that the university failed to properly educate researchers about guidelines for working with antibiotic-resistant strains.

University officials, however, contend that Splitter created antibiotic-resistant strains of brucellosis that were inserted into mice in 2007 and possibly earlier. The work was done without approval from local or federal agencies.

The unauthorized research was found following university-wide lab inspections by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which began in early 2008. Evidence gathered by the investigation revealed that Splitter's claim that he was unaware of the research was false.

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National Institutes of Health

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