London: London: UK patients have been implanted with stolen body parts which may be potentially contaminated, the country’s Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Authority has confirmed.
Over 70 pieces of bone have been grafted into the patients in 20 hospitals in the UK after they were imported from the New Jersey company Biomedical Tissue Services (BTS). The company which has now been shut down and is under investigation by the US Food & Drug Administration.
The imported bones were harvested by the firm from corpses in US funeral parlours without the deceased family’s consent and without proper checks to ensure the bodies were disease free. The stolen bodies included that of veteran broadcaster Alistair Cooke, who died of cancer last year, aged 95.
Although many of the bones were recalled after a safety alert, 77 implants had already been grafted into the hips and jaw bones of British patients. These patients have been offered screening for diseases such as HIV, hepatitis and syphillis which can be transmitted from the bones of the dead.
The scandal has exposed a growing trade in body tissue, bones and ligaments which are harvested in the US and exported around the world. In the US it is illegal to sell bodies directly to the US tissue banks which take ownership of the bodies after death but they sell them on to commercial companies who harvest, store and process the samples.
Imports to the UK have increased as there is a shortage of these parts which are used to repair serious fractures and as dental implants.
The UK government responsible for monitoring this trade, the Human Tissue Authority does not know which countries export skin, bone and ligaments to Britain or even the quantities.
The export of the particularly batch to Britain by BTS is confirmed by the Medicines and Healthcare products REgulatory Authority, the agency responsible for ensuring the safety of medical treatments. They said the patients had received what is known as allografts to fill holes in jaws and hip bones.
Regulators say the chance of infection is low as the bones were steralised prior to implantation.
The company BTS was forced to close last autumn after allegations that it had forged consent forms and other documents to gain access to dead bodies from undertakers.
Among the bodies desecrated was that of Alistair Cooke, whose bones were stolen and recyled. The US authories also claim that BTS did not carry out proper screening of the bodies. Also the bones of elderly people may not be suitable for transplants as they are more likely to have degenerative bone diseases such as osteroporosis.
The director of the company, Michael Mastromarina, a dentist who lost his practising licence because of drug addiction, and two assistants, face criminal charges including soliciting undertakers to prove illegally body parts such as tendons, skin and bone from corpses.