​Coffee Poisoning Between 2 Cancer Doctors

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June 11, 2013
Follow: Ana Maria Gonzalez-Angulo, Coffee, Coffee Poisoning, George Blumenschein, M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, Poisoning

A cancer researcher is accused of spiking a cup of coffee with a tainted sweetener, hoping to kill off a fellow doctor by poisoning, according to a criminal complaint filed on may 29.

Coffee Poisoning

Dr. Ana Maria Gonzalez-Angulo, a breast cancer oncologist at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center spiked the coffee of her colleague Dr. George Blumenschein with ethylene glycol, causing kidney failure and other complications. Gonzalez-Angulo and Blumenschein were in a casual sexual relationship, according to the complaint, which was first reported by the Houston Chronicle.

So what is ethylene glycol? This industrial chemical is odorless, colorless and deadly, especially given that it tastes sweet, making it appealing to kids and pets.

Because it lowers the freezing point of water, ethylene glycol is mainly used as anantifreeze in automobiles. It’s also used in some manufacturing processes and in research labs, including at M.D. Anderson, according to investigators. Most poisonings occur via antifreeze ingestion, however, according to the U.S. government’s Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry (ATSDR).

In the complaint, Blumenschein alleges that Gonzalez-Angulo made him a cup of coffee that tasted suspiciously sweet, given that he normally drinks his coffee black. He objected, according to the complaint, but Gonzalez-Angulo told him the taste was the sweetener Splenda and then made him a second, also sweet, mug.

Blumenschein, a specialist in lung, head and neck cancers, alleges that a few hours later, he began to slur his speech and lose his balance and motor skills. A urine test revealed signs of ethylene glycol poisoning. The doctor would eventually need dialysis to save his ailing kidneys.

Ethylene glycol kills by first affecting the central nervous system, causing symptoms such as headache, confusion, slurred speech and tremors, according to ATSDR. As the body metabolizes the compound, cardiopulmonary symptoms kick in: a racing heart, high blood pressure and rapid breathing. About 24 to 72 hours after untreated ingestion, the body’s attempts to clear the compound end with kidney dysfunction or failure, which can be irreversible.

Treatment of ethylene glycol poisoning depends on how long ago the patient ingested the chemical. In early stages, doctors may try to induce vomiting. They may also give medications that inhibit ethylene glycol metabolism.