Student Dies After Exam For Research Volunteer May Have Been Given Too Much Cough Suppressant


Human trials in a research project on effects of smoking and air pollution were halted because a young student volunteer died after an ordinarily routine examination.

The student was given too much of a topical anesthetic for the test, officials said Wednesday.

Hoiyan Wan, a 19-year-old sophomore from New York City, underwent a bronchoscopy Friday at the University of Rochester Medical Center. In the procedure, a flexible tube is inserted down the throat and wind pipe to retrieve or study lung cells.

Wan had a “greater amount of cough reflex during the procedure than others…and obviously too much (lidocaine) was given” to suppress the cough, Dr. Jay H. Stein said at a news conference Wednesday. He is the medical center’s provost for health affairs.

Two hours later, after complaining of chest pains, she suffered a heart attack at her apartment. She died early Sunday.

An investigation showed twice the acceptable amount of the anesthetic lidocaine in her bloodstream, Stein said. An overdose of lidocaine can cause a seizure that can lead to a heart attack.

An autopsy was performed but it was unknown when the results might be made public.

The lung procedure is performed each year at the medical center on about 200 patients and 50 healthy volunteers, many of them students, and carries a low risk, said Dr. Paul Levy, director of pulmonary clinical services at the university’s Strong Memorial Hospital.

Levy said he was unaware of any other deaths related to the bronchoscopy procedure in a research setting.

“This has blind-sided all of us,” he said.

The trials were part of a study of lung and airway cells, looking for potential links to skin cancer, that was begun in 1981 with grants from the National Institutes of Health.

The University of Rochester is nationally renowned for its biomedical research in environmental and pulmonary medicine, among other fields. More than 1,000 research projects involving human subjects are under way there.

Wan, among the healthy volunteers, and others were paid $150 to take part. The 200 patients in the study suffered from various lung ailments.

Wan, who was considering a career in nursing, seemed in good health and signed a consent form to participate in the study, said hospital spokesman Robert Loeb.

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