French doctors stand trial for CJD scandal.http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/health/article3315352.ece
February 6, 2008
Seven senior French doctors and former health officials stand trial today over the deaths of 111 people who were infected with Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) when they were injected with growth hormones as children in the 1980s.
The accused, most of them in their seventies and eighties, are charged with manslaughter and fraud arising from alleged negligence in administering the hormone, which was extracted from the pituitary glands of corpses.
The trial, which is expected to last four months, is being compared to the early-1990s trial over the distribution of blood contaminated with HIV, in which two senior doctors received prison terms.
So far 111 children and young adults have died and more than 800 people are living with the threat of developing the fatal, brain-wasting CJD. Symptoms of the disease, a variant of which was contracted by humans from BSE, or mad cow disease, can take 40 years to appear.
Each time we have thought that the danger is passing a new death arrives to dash our hopes, said Francine Delbrel, a member of one of the associations of victims that have been pursuing the case. Ms Delbrel's daughter, Benedicte, died in 1993 at the age of 21 after doctors failed to diagnose the disease.
The families are seeking damages beyond the 225,000 (£169,000) that has been paid by the state.
The accused could receive four-year prison terms. Fernand Dray, 85, a former head of a laboratory at the Pasteur Institute, is also charged with accepting bribes and illegally selling by-products of the pituitary glands a charge that carries a maximum ten-year sentence. A leading figure among the defendants is Jean-Claude Job, 85, the former president of the only association that was authorised to source and distribute the hormones.
The prosecution says that his staff gathered glands from bodies in neurological and geriatric wards as well as from a hospital that specialised in infectious diseases.
The defendants denied charges that they neglected elementary sanitary precautions and ignored warnings from 1984, when the death of an American revealed a possible link between human growth hormones and CJD.
In 1985 the United States, Britain and other countries banned hormones extracted from human glands but France continued until 1988. Synthetic hormones have been used since then.
France is home to 58 per cent of reported CJD deaths contracted from growth hormones.
At least 20 experts are to be called as witnesses, including Stanley Prusiner, who won the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1997 for discovering prions, the corrupted protein that causes CJD and other degenerative brain diseases. Spreading disease
CJD introduced accidentally by a doctor is known as iatrogenic CJD. It has been spread by corneal transplants, brain membrane grafts and surgical instruments
The incubation time for iatrogenic CJD, the period in which someone may carry the disease without showing any signs, is between 19 and 46 months
Early symptoms include depression, memory lapses and, in some cases, unusual fatigue
27 cases of CJD hormone have been diagnosed in Britain among people treated with human growth hormone
All growth hormones used since 1985 has been synthesised, removing the risk of transmission
Kuru, a disease once common among the Forι people of Papua New Guinea, has helped physicians to understand CJD. It was spread through the handling of the brains of dead people during traditional funeral rites