UCLA prof falsified cancer data

A former UCLA biologist falsified data on biomarkers and treatments for cancer in two journal articles and multiple grant applications, the Office of Research Integrity (ORI) reported last week. According to the ORI notice, Mai Nguyen, an associate professor of surgery at UCLA from 1995-2005, falsified data published in a 2000 Oncology Reports paper, which has been cited 5 times, and a 2001 article in The Lancet, which has been cited 25 times. The papers examined the effect of Livistona chine

By | February 9, 2009

A former UCLA biologist falsified data on biomarkers and treatments for cancer in two journal articles and multiple grant applications, the Office of Research Integrity (ORI) reported last week. According to the ORI notice, Mai Nguyen, an associate professor of surgery at UCLA from 1995-2005, falsified data published in a 2000 Oncology Reports paper, which has been cited 5 times, and a 2001 article in The Lancet, which has been cited 25 times. The papers examined the effect of Livistona chinensis, a Chinese fan palm extract, on mouse fibrosarcoma cells, and the use of basic fibroblast growth factor and vascular endothelial growth factor in nipple fluid as biomarkers for cancer, respectively. Nguyen also fudged experiments and figures in grant applications submitted to the National Institute of Health, National Center for Complimentary and Alternative Medicine, National Cancer Institute, and National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases grants, the ORI reported. In one NIH grant, for example, she falsified the number of experiments done and the number of animals used in studies of Livistona's anticancer effect. In the same grant, she falsely claimed that she used a specific technique to measure uptake of radioactive thymidine. ORI officials declined to provide further information; as part of the case's settlement, the ORI was barred from speaking about details not included in its official report. Roberto Peccei, Vice Chancellor for Research at UCLA, told The Scientist that he was first alerted to potential misconduct in 2000 by a former postdoc in Nguyen's lab, Jing Liang Wang. After finding grounds for further investigation, he brought his preliminary findings to the university's Privilege & Tenure Committee. The committee conducted a separate investigation, finding Nguyen guilty of misconduct in 2004. As a result of the findings, Nguyen was barred from conducting research for three years, but was allowed to retain her post as faculty member. She contested the committee's findings, but the sanctions were approved in 2005, Peccei said. "She always took the point of view that she was innocent. Ultimately she could not convince a committee of her peers," Peccei said. However, Nguyen and UCLA disagreed on how the ruling barring her from research should be interpreted, Peccei said. Though Nguyen closed her lab, he explained, "she understood banishment from doing research to not include publishing." Since 2005, she has published 10 articles under her married name, Mai Brooks, continuing to collaborate with some of her coauthors on the Lancet and Oncology Reports papers. Four of her collaborators on those papers contacted by The Scientist declined to comment. The disagreement caused Nguyen to resign in 2005. She is currently a surgical oncologist at UCLA Medical School, according to affiliations listed on the 2009 Methods in Molecular Biology review. Peccei said the long, drawn-out nature of the case led UCLA to revise some of its policies for conducting investigations "because it was so confusing and so painful." In the past, the Privilege and Tenure Committee both performed misconduct investigations and decided on disciplinary action, he said, but the university has since decided that the committee should not act as "both judge and jury." Instead, misconduct investigations are now conducted through the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research; only if misconduct is found does a case go to the Privilege and Tenure Committee. "This was not a case that went very well for anyone involved, even though there was good faith on all sides," Peccei said.

Comments

Avatar of: Michael Ham

Michael Ham

Posts: 2

February 10, 2009

In general, I don't believe that mandatory minimum sentences are a good idea, but in any case involving falsifying data in scientific research that's published or used in a grant application should, in my opinion, get a mandatory 5-year minimum sentence. Having such a sentencing policy widely promulgated throughout the scientific community should give dishonest and unethical researchers pause, at the very least.
Avatar of: Ellen Hunt

Ellen Hunt

Posts: 199

February 10, 2009

I could see convening a committee from outside the university composed of randomly selected peers to do initial investigation and giving them a budget that includes private investigator time. But this?! This is like watching quietly while the head of the NY Stock Exchange is takes over power to hand off cases to the SEC! \n\nOf course the chancellor wants to get control of such investigations! The fox wants to guard the hen-house because it hurts the university's overall grants picture when something comes out publicly. Taking over control of whether a case gets put forward will ensure that the vice chancellor's office can "investigate" and find "no conclusive evidence". This is a foregone conclusion as anyone involved in such "investigations" well knows. I have watched this up close. \n\nThe Chancellor's office carefully picks "flexible" professors, for instance, some "uninterested party" from a poor department to do the preliminary investigation. All that guy has to do is systematically refuse to collect evidence from anyone that says it is a problem. His quid pro quo is that the administration gives him some money for his research. \n\nI know exactly what I am talking about. Exactly. \n\nBy not raising so much as an eyebrow, "The Scientist" has become an bystander collaborator in the corruption of science.
Avatar of: ROY MANNS

ROY MANNS

Posts: 1

February 11, 2009

This highlights how some researchers abuse their position & trust to falisfy data to get more grants. It was like the big scandel of the researcher at Livermore? who falsified data for decades on risk of cancer living near Electric pylons and towers or the one doing the rounds about cell phones etc., etc. NS will do a great duty to expose this.
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 19

February 11, 2009

As a duty to all readers, the first obligation of The Scientist is to report the facts of the case in an impartial manner. Anything more than that and the article becomes an editorial, and should be marked as such. So, thankyou to The Scientist for reporting the facts in this case.\n\nPersonally, I feel sure that in many of these investigations many research institutes, and scientists, obfuscate, hide facts, and slow proceedings deliberately to a greater or lesser degree as a way of protecting their reputation. However, in reporting the facts one cannot let 'feelings' muddy the waters.\n\nEllen Hunt appears to be in possession of some explosive information. If that is the case, it would seem to be her duty, by her own standards or at least by her own sense of outrage, to bring these matters to the appropriate authorities or news desk.
Avatar of: Douglas Maier

Douglas Maier

Posts: 1

August 31, 2009

I've conducted several of these investigations over the last two decades. What I have found best is (1) a team/individual doing the investigation, (2) a peer group that reviews the investigation report and makes a finding on the allegations, and (3) a peer/administrative group that determines actions if allegations are confirmed. It helps manage bias fairly well. So, I think UCLA is on the right track. Integrity at the top is paramount, however, for any system to work. If anyone wants some advice, I'm happy to help if I can.

Popular Now

  1. Symmetrical Eyes Indicate Dyslexia
  2. German Scientists Resign from Elsevier Journals’ Editorial Boards
  3. Germany Sees Drastic Decrease in Insects
  4. Swapping Cigarettes for Vaping
    The Scientist Swapping Cigarettes for Vaping

    New evidence suggests e-cigarettes are not without risks to human health, but can be useful in getting people to kick their smoking habit.

RayBiotech