Coworker: Dookhan lied about degree, cut corners at prior lab job

October 17, 2012
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Disgraced state drug lab chemist Annie Dookhan lied about her degree and made a minor corner-cutting of procedure in her previous job at a vaccine-making lab, according to a former coworker, who called on authorities to check Dookhan’s work.

The former coworker, who spoke to the Gazette on the condition of not being identified, also expressed surprise that the University of Massachusetts Medical School claims that it cannot figure out if Dookhan, then using the last name Khan, ever worked at the MassBiologics vaccine facility at the William A. Hinton State Laboratory Institute at 305 South St.

“I don’t want to be a whistleblower. [But] I think it’s important to say something if [MassBiologics] is lying about her working there,” said the coworker, who served at MassBiologics alongside Dookhan in 2003. “If the authorities want to check up on her work, I would recommend them doing that.”

The coworker emphasized that MassBiologics appeared to be doing good work at that time and nothing ever went wrong. UMass Medical School previously told the Gazette that there has never been a problem with the products of the federally regulated MassBiologics.

Mark Shelton, UMass Medical’s vice chancellor for communications, again told the Gazette this week that MassBiologics employed an Annie Khan in 2001-2003, without addressing whether UMass Medical knows or has interest in finding out whether Khan and Dookhan are the same person.

“She was Annie Khan when we hired her and she was Annie Khan when she left, voluntarily,” said Shelton in an email to the Gazette.

Shelton said that UMass Medical has “no indication” that Annie Khan lied about her degree while at MassBiologics. He also said that “there was no reason at the time of her employment to question the outcome of her work, which was contemporaneously and routinely and independently verified by the stringent testing and quality control procedures of an FDA [federal Food and Drug Administration] licensed manufacturing facility.”

Dookhan is facing criminal charges for allegedly faking or tampering with drug evidence in thousands of cases while working a a drug lab in the State Lab building from 2003 to last year. Before that, she worked at MassBiologics on a different floor of the State Lab.

During the time that the coworker served with Dookhan at MassBiologics’ quality control lab, Dookhan was applying for the drug lab job and then left to take it, said the coworker. The coworker continued to see Dookhan around the building after that.

Dookhan’s work at MassBiologics included testing the purity of filtered water used in vaccines and testing raw materials for vaccines to make sure they were the substances they were labeled as, according to the coworker.

Dookhan was “at first very Type A, very meticulous, very quick,” said the coworker. But then the coworker noticed that Dookhan was skipping a protocol that required chemists to keep a standard operating procedure manual open alongside them to follow while conducting tests.

“A lot of times, she didn’t,” the coworker said, adding that it seemed minor at the time, but more concerning in retrospect. “I almost fell into that trap” of imitating Dookhan by not using the manual, the coworker said.

Other former lab workers have fuzzy memories of similar minor corner-cutting by Dookhan in recent discussions about the case, the coworker said. “People knew something was kind of fishy” with Dookhan in retrospect, the coworker said.

The criminal charges against Dookhan include a charge of lying under oath about having a master’s degree while serving at the drug lab.

“We were under the impression she had an advanced degree as well,” said the MassBiologics coworker.

The MassBiologics lab at that time was a “great place” with good equipment, the coworker said.

“I felt like we were a team,” the coworker said. “People did not seem overly stressed or overly worked.”

The coworker, who now lives in another state, learned of the Dookhan scandal from family and other former MassBiologics employees. The coworker recognized Dookhan immediately in news photos.

The coworker was spurred to comment by reading an article in the Gazette where UMass Medical claimed it cannot figure out if Dookhan ever worked at MassBiologics under the name Annie Khan.

“I’m like, really? It’s the same building. And the building’s not that big,” the coworker said. “They definitely know it was her.”

The coworker “struggled” with the decision to speak to the Gazette, but decided to because of the importance of even the slight possibility that Dookhan may have mishandled material for vaccines.

The coworker also expressed curiosity about whether something about the drug lab triggered Dookhan to allegedly fudge results, possibly an urge to capture drug dealers, or if she had always done so.

“Was it just her character [to fudge results]?” the coworker asked. “I think that’s important [to discover], too.”

Updated version: This story has been updated to include comments from the University of Massachusetts Medical School.