Family seeks answers in UofC scientist's
Tuesday, September 22, 2009 | 1:23 PM
By Kevin Roy
September 21, 2009 (CHICAGO)
(WLS) -- A University of Chicago researcher died after being exposed to
a strain of bacteria that causes plague. And Malcolm Casadaban's family
The Chicago Department of Public Health says there's
no sign anyone else was exposed to the bacteria.
tragic irony is that Professor Casadaban had been trying to develop a
vaccine so that thousands of people around the world wouldn't die a
painful, ugly death from a bacterial infection related to the plague.
But it was that bacterium that appears to have killed
"We really thought he was so strong, we didn't see
this coming at all," said Leigh Casadaban, daughter.
did they not see it coming, but sisters Leigh and Brooke Casadaban say
their father never knew what killed him.
just so much of a shock, even the time he was in the ER, from the moment
he got accepted to the time he passed away. We had no idea, we didn't
even get to say goodbye to him," said Brooke Casadaban.
Casadaban was a professor of molecular genetics at the University of
Chicago for 30 years.
For the past eight years, his daughters say, he'd been
working with a strain of bacteria called yersinia pestis, trying to
develop a stronger vaccine for the plague, once the world's worst health
The weakened strain he was using, however, isn't
supposed to make healthy people sick.
is the big mystery now for investigators with the Centers for Disease
Control and the state and city public health departments who've been
looking for clues at the U. of C. labs.
"Was it a
change in the organism, something about the person infected that made
him uniquely susceptible? We don't really know the answers yet," said
John Easton, University of Chicago Medical Center.
hurtful because we remember our father as very healthy. He rode his bike
to work, never smoked, never drank," said Brooke
Brooke and Leigh Casadaban say they're not satisfied
with the answers they've been given so far.
their father, who had flu-like symptoms, enter the hospital a week ago
Sunday morning and die 12 hours later with no one suspecting that it
could be related to the plague?
Leigh, who is following in
her father's footsteps, now attends her father's alma mater
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, says it may be up to her to solve
"I plan to go to the lab to read his papers and notes
and go and really understand what he was trying to do," said Leigh
Leigh and Brooke say they've been told that their
father is the first person in the Chicago area to die from this
bacterium, an infection that is usually cured with antibiotics. They say
they're not eager to file a lawsuit. But they are wondering now if
someone at the hospital or the university should have been able to spot
this before it was too late.
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