GALVESTON, Texas -- A medical center whose handling of cadavers has come under FBI investigation said Tuesday that it is recalling body parts sent to research institutions around the country, warning they may carry the AIDS virus or other infections.
The University of Texas Medical Branch said records kept by a former employee are so poor that there is a chance the parts -- including feet, knees and elbows -- have been used in tissue transplants.
"We deeply regret this has happened. We make no excuses for it," said Steven Lieberman, associate dean for educational affairs.
The medical center ordered the recall because the unpreserved remains may not have been properly tested for hepatitis and HIV before they were shipped.
The remains are primarily used to train doctors in surgical techniques and are not intended for use in transplants.
But the medical center said it could not be sure that ligaments, cartilage and other tissue was not used that way.
Risk 'probably zero'
The medical center called the risk to public health "negligible and probably zero," but said it could not guarantee that transplant patients are safe from infection.
It urged researchers who received remains under its Willed Body Program between November 2000 and May 2002 to destroy the parts or send them back.
The parts may have been sent to as many as 60 research programs nationwide. The medical center began notifying the institutions this week, and it said researchers should protect themselves when handling the remains.
"With these precautions, the risks go way down," Lieberman said.
Lieberman said he could not account for how many parts had been shipped out during the 18-month period in question. He said the medical center is not legally required to test the parts for infectious diseases, but such testing is expected within the medical community.
The Willed Body Program received about 300 bodies a year that had been left to science. Typically, the cadavers are used to train medical students and for research. When doctors are finished with the cadavers, any remains are usually cremated and returned to the families.
The Willed Body Program was shut down earlier this year and is already under investigation by the FBI, which is looking into allegations that an employee sold donated remains and that donors' ashes were mingled.
The employee, Allen Tyler Jr., 56, worked in the program for 36 years before being fired May 9. He supervised the handling of donated cadavers and was responsible for shipping bodies and body parts.
Tyler, who has not been charged with any crime, has refused to comment and did not return a message Tuesday.
Medical center officials said they began detecting discrepancies in Willed Body Program records in March. The FBI said last month that it was investigating.
Several lawsuits have been filed against the medical center by family members who lost the cremated remains of loved ones.
On the Net:
Medical center: http://www.utmb.edu