Risky Research

Millions of people participate in medical research studies every year in the U.S. and around the world. inewsource reporters Brad Racino and Jill Castellano are investigating the shortcomings in the system that's meant to protect those participants.

This is an evolving project that began with an investigation into one research study at the San Diego VA but has now branched out to affiliated institutions and oversight agencies. Sign up below for alerts to new stories, or reach out to the reporters with tips, suggestions or leads.

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Brad Racino is a senior investigative reporter and assistant director at inewsource. He has produced investigations on topics including political corruption, transportation, health, maritime, education and nonprofits.
Contact him at bradracino@inewsource.org. Securely contact Brad on Signal or WhatsApp (845-553-4170)


Jill Castellano is an investigative data reporter at inewsource. During the 2018 election, she focused on campaign finance reporting, including political party spending and the money behind the failed gas tax repeal.
Contact her at jillcastellano@inewsource.org.



Feb. 12, 2020

REWIRED is a two-part investigation into a promising and experimental brain treatment that has sparked mayhem for the doctor who developed it and the Navy SEAL who had a psychotic break after receiving it. The stories also offer the first public description of an ongoing University of California investigation into how a $10 million gift to study the treatment was wasted at one of America’s premier research universities.


VA leaders questioned at congressional hearing about ‘egregious’ San Diego human research

October 16, 2019

Leadership from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs answered questions at a congressional hearing about inewsource’s investigation into dangerous liver research conducted at the San Diego VA and poor oversight of the VA healthcare system.

Congress expanding investigation into San Diego VA liver study

October 1, 2019

Congress will conduct a hearing to investigate the VA's Office of the Medical Inspector following inewsource stories that exposed the office’s shoddy review of a dangerous San Diego liver study.

Why UCSD keeps denying a genital mutilation study involving Kenyan girls

September 11, 2019

For years, a distinguished UC San Diego economist has wanted to stop young girls in Kenya from undergoing genital mutilation by offering them and their families money toward education.

‘Someone will get hurt’: Whistleblower alleges major problems in UCSD’s human research protections program

August 14, 2019

An anonymous whistleblower is claiming that UC San Diego is putting at risk thousands of people each year because it’s not following basic rules meant to protect human research subjects and values grant funding over safety.

Eye doctors decry risky study on babies in China involving UCSD researchers

July 25, 2019

Researchers from the University of California San Diego were involved in a study performed on babies in China that has been called unethical, risky and misleading. Experts say the experiment likely would not have passed an ethics review in the United States.

UCSD doctor resigns amid questions about undisclosed Chinese businesses

July 6, 2019

A renowned UCSD eye doctor who is part of a Chinese talent program under FBI scrutiny has resigned amid questions about his foreign government affiliations and businesses.

‘Banished’ blood, stool samples from San Diego veterans used in research article, despite federal probe

May 30, 2019

Two prominent doctors associated with the University of California San Diego and the local VA used blood and stool samples taken from sick veterans to bolster a paper published in an academic research journal.

UCSD has not told women with HIV of data breach, despite researchers’ pleas

May 14, 2019

The lead researcher pushed to tell 24 women in the project about the breach, but UCSD officials were concerned about the legal consequences.

Prominent UCSD eye doctor ‘on leave’ after inewsource investigation

April 23, 2019

Dr. Kang Zhang, chief of eye genetics at the University of California San Diego, is “on leave” after an inewsource investigation exposed how the doctor put medical research subjects in harm’s way for years.

UCSD eye doctor broke human research rules, putting patients at risk

April 18, 2019

Dr. Kang Zhang is the chief of eye genetics at UCSD with a history of research violations that put patients in harm’s way for years.

Even the head of $6M liver study doesn’t know what’s going on at San Diego VA

March 14, 2019

So far, our investigation has led us to contradictory government reports, confusing timelines and disagreements on basic facts. We hoped talking to Dr. Ramon Bataller would give us the answers we’ve been looking for.

San Diego VA confirms liver samples taken from sick veterans without their consent

February 26, 2019

An internal report from the San Diego VA reveals liver samples were taken from sick veterans without their permission. The October 2018 report found “serious noncompliance occurred” when extra pieces of liver were removed from at least nine veterans.

Congress to hold hearing on San Diego VA human research

February 1, 2019

Congress will hold a hearing into allegations by two whistleblowers of dangerous human research conducted at the San Diego VA medical center.

Rep. Peters asks for congressional hearings into San Diego VA human research

November 27, 2018

Rep. Scott Peters on Monday requested congressional hearings over allegations of dangerous human research at the VA San Diego Healthcare System.

Dangerous human research alleged at San Diego VA

November 19, 2018

Two whistleblowers say dangerous medical research was performed on veterans suffering from alcoholism and liver disease at the San Diego VA.