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Potentially Contaminated Implants Used by NHS

Contaminated implants used in surgery


Potentially contaminated body parts may have been implanted into British patients.

Over 1,000 body parts have been stolen by corpse-snatching gangs in New York and then sold for transplants. These potentially contaminated body parts may have been implanted into British patients in procedures like dental implants and hip replacements.

The body of veteran BBC broadcaster Alistair Cooke was one of those stolen by the gang.

The company at the heart of the scandal, Biomedical Tissue Services (BTS), exported 77 pieces of bone which were grafted onto patients needing hip or jaw operations in the UK last year.

Possible exposure to HIV from contaminated implants

But the US Food and Drug Administration subsequently ordered a recall of the potentially tainted products towards the end of 2005, warning that many patients may have been exposed to HIV and other diseases, although they thought the risk of infection was minimal.

Britain's Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), which ensures that medicines and medical devices are safe, confirmed it had alerted the UK patients' doctors about the potential problem earlier this year. Despite no concrete evidence that the 77 body parts in question came from stolen bodies or were infected, they MHRA confirmed that they did come from BTS.

MHRA also stated that assessment of the risk and the decision about whether to remove the implant was with the patients' doctors. Their role was simply to inform practitioners as they are not in a position to demand a recall.

New York investigators report that death certificates were doctored to make the dead out to have been younger and healthier than they actually were. So for Mr Cooke, who died of cancer at 95 in March 2004, documents list the cause of death as a heart attack and lowered his age to 85.

Michael Mastromarino, the owner of New Jersey-based Biomedical Tissue Services, and three others have pleaded not guilty to the charges.

In response Human Tissue Authority (HTA), which in April became the UK's regulator for human tissue and cells, has tightened regulations. Although the organisation does not license the import and export of tissues and cells it does require establishments storing tissue to allow an audit trail.