Researcher Regrets Blowing Whistle

PITTSBURG-Erdem Cantekin came to the US to study biology and make a difference; However, a revolutionary spirit was in his blood.

An immigrant from Turkey, his grandfathers had helped in the fight to overturn the Ottoman Empire. He, on the other hand, tried to overturn the system of medical ethics used in American research.

Some would argue his grandfathers had an easier fight.

Cantekin received his doctorate in biomedical engineering. from the Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh. In 1973, he met Dr. Bluestone, a graduate of the University of Pittsburg medical school who was making a name for himself in pediatric otolaryngology. The two decided to work together researching children's ear infections.

During the next five years, they compared antibiotic treatments against placebo treatments on ear infections. Specifically, Bluestone was studying the antibiotic amoxicillin and its effect on ear infections. The National Institute of Health (NIH) gave the men $17.8 million in grants to fund the research.

However, the money quickly ran out, leaving Bluestone on the phone with major pharmaceutical companies, asking for help. Several companies did just that. An additional $3.4 million was raised for research and more than $260,000 for honoraria and travel expenses for Bluestone.

Cantekin did not like the new friendship between his research partner and the medical companies now funding his work. More importantly, he did not agree with the research Bluestone would later publish reporting the need of antibiotics to cure ear infections.

Cantekin argues their research showed no significant difference between the amoxicillin trial and the placebo trial. More so, the Turkish researcher says Bluestone's research was biased because he was supporting the medical companies that funded his project.

The connection between academia and industry is symbiotic and nothing new. Rising research costs can stifle discovery; lack of innovation can hamper productivity.

However, Cantekin says this relationship, concerning his research, is protecting the interests of big business and suppressing dissent.

Cantekin and Bluestone have been fighting in courts concerning the matter since 1986. The latest victory was for Cantekin after a Congressional committee said the university and the NIH censored his work, which only further promoted the use of antibiotics. However victories for the researcher are rare.

Yet the most powerful information for Cantekin to date is new independent research showing the ineffectiveness of antibiotics when treating children's ear infections.

As the battle rages on in the courts, Cantekin is left questioning whether 15 years of his life was worth the fight. The once promising researcher has watched his life fall apart. His tenured salary with the University of Pittsburgh has remained the same since 1986 when he decided to disagree. He is considered a whistleblower and is given no money for new research projects.

He has said now, that although he continues to disagree with biased medical research, he would not have made the same decisions if given another chance.

Information from The Wall Street Journal