For the past 2 years, prominent neuroscientist Milena Penkowa formerly of the University of Copenhagen has been hit with a slew of allegations—about both her research and business practices.
In early 2010, Penkowa, who became well known in the late 1990s and early 2000s for her work on animal models of multiple sclerosis, was suspended from the University of Copenhagen following accusations of embezzlement from a Danish neuroscience society. She was then accused of research misconduct. An investigation by the Danish Committee on Scientific Dishonesty (DCSD), the Dutch equivalent of the Office of Research Integrity, is still underway, with an official conclusion later this month, Nature reported. In the meantime, an international committee, assembled by the University of Copenhagen in February 2011 and tasked with reviewing Penkowa’s entire career, has found evidence that she likely falsified data in as many as 15 papers, fudging the number of animals used and protein levels in tissues.
The committee reviewed 79 papers, questioned Penkowa’s124 coauthors, and examined microscope slides, lab notebooks, and other lab records. In the end, the committee found that in 15 of her papers, there was “potentially intentional misconduct” that entailed discordant animal records, a lack of proper controls, or missing data altogether. But the committee admits that its investigation is not fool proof.
“Many of the things we found that were suspicious were done between 2000 and 2005, a long time ago,” committee chair Hans Lassman, a multiple-sclerosis researcher at the Medical University of Vienna, Austria, told Nature. “We cannot exclude there is somewhere additional material that could prove some of our suspicions are not valid.”
Indeed, Penkowa is arguing that the committee did not have access to all the necessary documentation, or materials in two freezers and one refrigerator, that would have set the record straight. She also claims that the chair of her department who, according to Penkowa, initiated the investigations into her work, was trying to set her up. Biochemist Albert Gjedde “knew what to remove from my department in order to harm me most with regards to his accusations,” she told Nature.
Penkowa officially resigned from the university in December 2010, and was found guilty of embezzlement in early 2011. In addition to the government’s ruling on the case, she is also awaiting the decision of University of Copenhagen’s academic council for the faculty of health, which is considering whether or not to withdraw Penkowa’s PhD and medical degrees, earned at the University.