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Private information about research participants goes missing at McLean Hospital

McLean Hospital said Tuesday that information about 12,600 people who donated their brains to research has gone missing.

McLean, a psychiatric hospital in Belmont owned by Partners HealthCare, said most of the people affected are deceased. The others are people who have committed to donating their brain tissue to medical research upon their death. Some family members of brain donors also were affected.

The hospital said four backup data tapes at its Harvard Brain Tissue Resource Center went missing on May 29. These tapes contained private information, including names, dates of birth, diagnoses, and some Social Security numbers. The tapes, which are unencrypted, were never found.


“Although to date it has been unable to locate the missing backup data tapes, McLean has no reason to believe that any of the information on the backup data tapes has been accessed or used inappropriately,” the hospital said in a statement. “It would take specialized software, equipment, and technical expertise in order to access the information on the tapes.”

No patient information was breached, the hospital said. It said it reported the incident to the attorney general’s office Tuesday and has started sending letters to the people affected.

McLean said it waited two months to report the incident because it was investigating the incident.

“We needed to do a full investigation about exactly what was contained on the tapes,” spokeswoman Adriana Bobinchock said. “It took time to determine the scope of the incident and determine all the individuals who may have been affected.”

This is the second data breach Partners has reported this year. In April, the health system said information about 3,300 patients was breached through an e-mail phishing scam.

Priyanka Dayal McCluskey can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @priyanka_dayal.