NUS researcher disciplined for collecting blood samples in his lab

Dr James Kah violated research protocols by collecting blood samples in his laboratory to test a nanodevice he was developing.
Dr James Kah violated research protocols by collecting blood samples in his laboratory to test a nanodevice he was developing. PHOTO: THE NEW PAPER

The National University of Singapore (NUS) has taken disciplinary action against a respected bioengineering researcher who violated research protocols by collecting blood samples in his laboratory to test a nanodevice he was developing.

Dr James Kah, an assistant professor at the NUS biomedical engineering department, instructed a qualified phlebotomist to draw blood from volunteers in his lab, even though this was not approved for his study earlier this year.

"While the collection of blood samples from volunteers was conducted by a registered nurse from an external service provider, Dr Kah had deviated from the approved research protocol which governs the collection of blood samples for his study," an NUS spokesman said.

The Sunday Times understands that drawing of blood can be done in certain labs with proper facilities, equipment and procedures to ensure safety. However, prior approval has to be given to do so.

If blood is drawn in a lab without proper facilities, equipment or procedures, it may be hazardous to other users as sharp waste, such as needles, may be improperly disposed of and blood containing potentially infectious substances may be poorly handled.

In this case, the samples were to be used to study the "toxicity and biocompatibility of novel compounds". The aim was to examine the blood biocompatibility of Dr Kah's nanodevice, which he has been developing since August 2015.

Dr Kah's wrongdoing was uncovered after the Office of Safety, Health and Environment was alerted in March this year.

Investigations by NUS found that blood samples had been collected from the five healthy volunteers on four occasions in March.

NUS told The Sunday Times that its engineering faculty has been in touch with the five volunteers involved, adding that none of the volunteers indicated suffering any ill effects so far.

The university did not reveal what action was taken against Dr Kah, citing staff disciplinary matters as "internal and confidential".

An individual, believed to be working in Dr Kah's laboratory, wrote to The Sunday Times with concerns about the situation.

"This severely endangers the safety and health of all lab mates and students," he wrote, explaining that it could expose individuals to "blood-contracted diseases" if not handled well. The letter writer added that such actions were utterly unacceptable and might have serious health implications. 

The Sunday Times was unable to reach Dr Kah for his comments.

According to the NUS website, Dr Kah received his bioengineering doctorate from NUS in 2009. He was a recipient of the university's teaching excellence award this year. 

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 10, 2017, with the headline 'NUS researcher disciplined for breaking lab protocols'. Print Edition | Subscribe