An implantable microchip meant to give doctors instant electronic access to a patient’s medical records has been shown to cause cancer in lab animals. Yet despite a series of experiments documenting this cancer risk that date back to the 1990s, the implantable microchip was approved for use in humans by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) in January 2005. Now, serious questions have been raised about the safety of the implantable microchip, as well as the influence the chip’s manufacturer might have had on the Cabinet official overseeing the FDA when they were being reviewed.
According to an Associated Press (AP) report, about 2,000 microchips manufactured by the VeriChip Corporation have been implanted in human beings around the world. But between 1996 and 2006, several experiments conducted on mice and rats with the implant found that it had a disturbing likelihood to cause tumors in the animals. One such study published in 1998 by US researchers found the incidence of tumors caused by the microchips to be as high as 10 percent. Other studies found that between one and four percent of lab animals implanted with the chip developed tumors. While it is not certain that the microchip would cause cancer in humans, most of the cancer specialists interviewed by the AP said that the results of the microchip experiments in lab mice and rats indicated more studies were needed before the device could be called “safe”. What’s more, many of those experts said that they would not recommend the device to patients or family members until further studies were done.
Despite the cancer concerns, the FDA approved the use of the VeriChip implantable microchip for humans, saying that it had found “reasonable assurances” that the microchip implant was safe. According to the AP, the FDA did note that the microchip posed some risks, including “adverse tissue reaction”, but it did not make any mention of the chip’s association with malignant tumors in lab animals. It is not known if the FDA knew of the results of any of the mice or rat experiments because the agency has refused to specify what studies it reviewed when assessing the microchip’s safety.
What is also not known is what influence former Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson might have exerted over the FDA during the microchip’s approval process. Thompson, who was charged with overseeing the FDA, had been a big booster of electronic medical records as Secretary, and he had even formed a “medical innovation” task force that worked to partner the FDA with companies developing medical technologies. But just two weeks after the FDA approved the VeriChip device, Thompson resigned his post to return to the private sector. In five short months, he was named to VeriChip’s board of directors, where he received stock options in the company as part of his compensation package. Though Thompson resigned from the board earlier this year in order to run for the Republican presidential nomination, he is now a partner in a law firm that has been paid $1.2 million for legal services provided to VeriChip. What’s more, Thompson’s presidential campaign received a donation of $7,400 from the company.
Despite his connection with VeriChip, Thompson has maintained that he played no part in getting the company’s microchip approved by the FDA. And VeriChip continues to insist that the implantable microchip is safe for humans. The FDA also says it stands by its approval of the implantable microchip and will not be conducting any further safety reviews of the device. For his part, Thompson is on record as insisting the microchips are safe, although according to the AP, Thompson has yet to have a microchip implanted himself.