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Fast-Multiplying Lawsuits Can Stymie Medical Science, Authors Warn

Class-action lawsuits can significantly slow or halt science's ability to establish links between neurological illness and environmental //factors produced by industry, a team of scientists and lawyers warns in the journal Neurology.

The authors caution that litigation's effects could seriously impair efforts to identify compounds that contribute to a wide variety of diseases, including Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). They provide suggestions for policy changes to help shield scientists and their research. Recommendations include enhancing privacy protections for patient data obtained in research projects and eliminating financial conflicts-of-interest for scientists actively involved in research related to the litigation.

The lead author, Brad A. Racette, M.D., associate professor of neurology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, writes from personal experience: His studies tentatively linking welding to increased risk of Parkinson's disease resulted in a torrent of subpoenas for research data. Responding to them slows or stops his follow-up research.

"Participation in the legal system can be a huge burden on a researcher's schedule," Racette says. "There comes a point where a scientist needs the right to be able to say, testifying in court is not what I'm supposed to be doing, I'm supposed to be studying disease."

In addition to the scheduling challenges, parties involved in lawsuits often demand extensive disclosure of scientific data that disrupts research and threatens the privacy of patients and research volunteers. The two lawyers who are coauthors on the Neurology article, Ann Bradley and Carrie A. Wrisberg, worked with Racette to defend his data from unreasonable disclosure requests.

"I'm fortunate in that I work for a university that was willing to defend the value and privacy of our research data," Racette says. "Other scientists a
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