The family of a University of Pennsylvania neuroscientist who died of brain cancer sued the university Tuesday, alleging that the school bore responsibility for his death by failing to protect him from laboratory radiation.
The family of Jeffrey H. Ware further alleged that Penn physicians enrolled him in a study without proper consent, treating his gliosarcoma with still more radiation, thereby subjecting him to painful side effects long after there was any hope of recovery.
Ware, who died in October 2011 at age 47, lived in Haddonfield. His widow, Barbara Boyer, is an Inquirer staff writer. He also is survived by daughters Dorothy, 10, and Isabella, 6.
A Ph.D. senior researcher, Ware worked in the lab of Penn scientist Ann R. Kennedy, studying the effects of radiation on lab animals in order to develop better ways to protect astronauts from the radiation prevalent in outer space. Kennedy is named in the lawsuit, along with various entities associated with the university, including its medical school and the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.
In the lawsuit, filed in Common Pleas Court by attorney Aaron J. Freiwald, the family accuses Penn of failing to properly maintain radiation-emitting equipment, to measure radiation exposure levels, and to give researchers protective gear.
Two other people who worked in the lab with Ware were diagnosed with cancer in the same time period - one with lung cancer and the other with multiple myeloma, according to the complaint.
Also named in the lawsuit is Gary Kao, a Penn physician who has separately been disciplined by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for improper use of radiation on prostate cancer patients. Kao was a coinvestigator of Kennedy's on some of the research. He also was involved in the trial in which Ware and other brain-cancer patients were treated with radiation.
According to the lawsuit, Ware could not give informed consent to be part of the trial, as his cognitive abilities were diminished from the cancer and two brain surgeries.
Kao and Kennedy did not respond to e-mails seeking comment. Penn Medicine senior vice president Susan E. Phillips declined to comment, saying the health system has a policy against talking about pending litigation.
Boyer said she did not learn that her husband had been recruited for a trial until after it was well underway. She said she knew he was receiving radiation but did not realize it was being delivered at elevated, experimental levels, and was "horrified" to learn of Kao's involvement in her husband's care.
She cited the dozens of cases in which regulators found Kao had incorrectly placed radioactive seeds in prostate cancer patients, resulting in rectal pain and bleeding, among other side effects.
"To learn that Dr. Kao used my husband for his research after so many prostate patients had suffered as a result of surgical errors is disgraceful," Boyer said.
A separate claim is pending before the state Bureau of Workers' Compensation.