The federal government halted human research at the New York State Psychiatric Institute, the Columbia University psychiatry department’s flagship site, following a study participant’s suicide, The New York Times revealed Thursday.
The participant was part of research by Bret R. Rutherford, a former Columbia associate professor of psychiatry, into using a Parkinson’s disease drug to treat depression and mobility issues, The Times reported.
Spectrum, an autism research news outlet that reported on the suicide July 31, wrote that the participant was in the placebo group and died sometime before February 2022. It also reported there was an ongoing state audit, and that the combined executive director of the New York State Psychiatric Institute and chair of the Columbia psychiatry department had been replaced with an interim.
In an email to Inside Higher Ed Thursday, the institute said Rutherford resigned June 1 and “is no longer a Columbia faculty member.”
Rutherford didn’t respond to requests for comment Thursday evening.
The institute said it “voluntarily paused all research studies involving human subjects in early June,” and, about two weeks later, the federal Office for Human Research Protections restricted U.S. Department of Health and Human Services-funded research involving humans.
“The institute is also working with its federal partners to create a research safety review plan for HHS-funded studies, and out of an abundance of caution has begun a safety review of currently paused studies not funded by HHS,” the institute said, adding that its “review of research studies not funded by HHS is expected to be completed sometime next month.”
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a free, confidential 24-7 service that can provide people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress, or those around them, with support, information and local resources. Dial 988 for help.