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Cancer researcher loses 15 years of research after freezer move


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LOGAN — A simple mistake lost a researcher $2 million of cancer research and more than a dozen years of work.

For the last 15 years, Roger Coulombe, a professor of toxicology at Utah State University, has been studying and comparing how dietary factors can cause cancer in turkeys and humans.

"I've been here 28 years, and that's been my research focus almost the entire time," Coulombe said.

It was a fairly high-profile project and had been featured in Discover Magazine, garnering about $2 million in federal and state grants. Coulombe and a group of grad students working on the project were even getting ready to patent a procedure that would allow farmers to detect cancer in their turkeys.

But last March, the freezer containing hundreds of Coulombe's tissue samples was moved down the hall in the new agricultural building and the researcher was not notified. And when it arrived at its new destination, they failed to plug the freezer back in, spoiling the samples.

"There really is a lot invested here," Coulombe said. "Normally, if something goes wrong, this black box starts calling people, giving them a warning, but since everything was turned off, even that didn't happen."

The freezer, worth $10,000, is a specialized piece of equipment that freezes tissue samples to temperatures way below what a household freezer would, about -110 degrees Fahrenheit, or -80 centigrade.

Coulombe believes it was all an honest mistake and is working to get the project back on track, which could take about six years, depending on what can be salvaged. Coulombe believes it was all an honest mistake.

Coulombe has filed a $650 thousand insurance claim with the state's risk management office. If that gets approved, his team will use what they can salvage and start over.

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Mike Anderson

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