Becker did not respond to an email requesting comment on her relationship with Transplant Solutions LLC. A spokeswoman for the National Academies said in an email that Becker alerted the National Academies to her new position.
“The National Academies recently became aware of Dr. Becker’s relationship with Transplant Solutions and subsequently she resigned from the committee,” spokeswoman Dana Korsen wrote.
Korsen said the organization’s new conflict of interest disclosure policy, which went into effect this month, “requires disclosure of relevant relationships within the past five years.”
The Washington Post had asked both Becker and the National Academies in recent weeks whether Becker’s position with the consulting firm posed a conflict of interest. Transplant Solutions is a for-profit company that offers services to groups in the transplant system.
The Post’s inquiry marks the second time in a month that media have raised questions about conflicts of interest at the National Academies, established to provide the government independent advice on science policy from top experts.
In August, Kaiser Health News reported that two members of a National Academies panel that studied waste of pharmaceuticals, as well as the National Academy of Sciences itself, had received money from drug companies.
In that story, the National Academies responded that the two members had “no current conflicts of interest during the time the [drug waste] study was being conducted” and noted that the report was funded with federal dollars.
On Friday, two members of Congress asked the head of the National Academy of Medicine, one of the three branches of the academies, for financial information on members of the transplant committee and the academy itself.
Reps. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.) and Katie Porter (D-Calif.) — members of a House subcommittee that has been examining the network of 57 nonprofit groups that collect kidneys, livers, lungs and other organs for transplant — said the Kaiser Health News report had prompted their concerns.
“We are concerned by prior reports of financial conflicts of interest among NASEM committee members conducting important work on other subjects,” the two members of Congress wrote.
The National Academies, founded by a federal law in 1863, is considered one of the most prestigious science organizations in the United States. “Membership is a widely accepted mark of excellence in science and is considered one of the highest honors that a scientist can receive,” the organization notes on its website. Among its current 2,900 members around the world, approximately 190 have won Nobel Prizes, according to the organization.
With about 107,000 people on a wait list for organs, a small number of whom die each day, the U.S. organ transplant system is under considerable scrutiny. An array of critics, including members of Congress, have accused some of the organ procurement organizations, known as OPOs, of poor performance. But no OPO has ever lost its federal charter, which guarantees each one a monopoly to collect organs in a geographic swath of the United States
In 2020, the Trump administration approved new rules for the OPOs designed to increase the number of organs they procure for transplant each year by 7,200. In 2020, about 39,000 organs donors were transplanted.
In May, the House subcommittee chaired by Krishnamoorthi held a hearing on problems in the organ collection system. It continues to investigate the procurement organizations. In February, a Senate committee issued a subpoena for documents to the United Network for Organ Sharing, or UNOS, the nonprofit that contracts with the federal government to coordinate the system. The Senate committee’s inquiry also is ongoing.
The inspector general for the Department of Health and Human Services also is examining the work of organ procurement organizations.
Transplant Solutions announced in August on Facebook that Becker, who recently retired, was joining the organization. The announcement was not specific about her duties or pay. It cited her work on the National Academies committee and noted that she has previously served as president of the UNOS board of directors.
Laura J. Aguiar, principal and managing partner for the company, described Becker as an “independent consultant” who would work for clients as needed. She is still being oriented and has not done any work Transplant Solutions yet, Aguiar said.
Transplant Solutions offers OPOs, transplant hospitals and others “expertise in transplant cost report[ing], financial operations, clinical operations and staffing support,” according to its website.