Professor Tor Jensen from the University of Leicester has called on firms to be ready to swiftly fix leaks in their laboratories.
His comments come in the wake of news that a recent leak of lab-grown medical tissue in Britain has infected 71 patients and could have forced several surgeries to be cancelled. It’s the second such incident in the UK in less than a year.
On April 13, a first-of-its-kind lab grown tissue sample was leaked at the University of Leicester, causing the hospital to cancel five operations that involved the tissue. By the following day, all 71 patients had been notified and the tissue had been “recalled.”
It’s now uncertain what caused the contamination to occur.
Surgery The medical samples involved have so far not proved hazardous.
One theory is that the tissue sample was contaminated in a lab, but it’s still unclear who put the sample in the lab and why they didn’t use tight borders or process it carefully in the first place.
For example, the tissue samples involved have so far not proved hazardous.
“It’s possible the tissue samples were contaminated, but it’s also possible that this was done by someone on a freelance basis. We don’t know the specifics yet, but there are avenues that are possible and certainly plausible — particularly if it is someone who didn’t check the lab safety signs on the way in.”
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the data should be “kept as private as possible and kept secret.”
“We must investigate why someone put a dangerous piece of potentially live tissue in the wrong place and it needs to be quickly identified and removed,” he said.
Following the incident, NHS Providers, the organisation that represents NHS trusts across England, said the NHS was in the process of phasing out human cell cultures from research and development.
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Jensen, who has conducted tests in the field of medical genetic engineering and tissue culture — told CNN that “low-hanging fruit” was being picked and that companies would have to be more proactive.
“I’m somewhat surprised at the way the Department of Health has dealt with this incident,” he said. “Even before we know exactly what happened, which needs to be investigated, we are struggling to get information about what happened and who put it in the wrong place. They seem to be sitting on information that they should be releasing and making sure other parties actually know what happened.
“This is the start of a bigger leak issue I think. This information needs to be shared. I think the NHS should have a very proactive approach to keeping information about these kinds of things under wraps, so we don’t see another example of this type of event again.”
Researchers using high-tech techniques to create human tissue now have a chance to have “sterilizing technologies” at their disposal that would ensure that such accidents can be prevented.
“If we let safety systems and safety records catch up with the science, we could see very different types of incidents,” said Jensen.