A Decade of Misconduct

A senior cardiovascular disease and diabetes researcher at the University of Kentucky has been found guilty of falsifying data over the past 10 years.

By Dan Cossins | November 27, 2012

The Main Building at the University of Kentucky Wikimedia, SeicerFederal investigators have censured a former University of Kentucky (UK) senior biomedical researcher for serial scientific misconduct over a 10-year period, including the falsification of data in grant applications, progress reports, and published papers. The US Office of Research Integrity (ORI) announced the findings last week (November 20) with a notice in the Federal Register.

A joint investigation carried out over the course of 2 years by the ORI and the UK found that Eric Smart, who studied the molecular mechanisms behind cardiovascular diseases and diabetes, had falsified or fabricated a total of 45 figures—mostly images of Western blots, a technique used to identify proteins—in seven grant applications, three progress reports, and 10 published papers, some of which were cited more than 100 times, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge. The notice says that Smart also reported experimental data from knockout mice that did not exist.

“This is surprising and disappointing news to me,” said Philippe Frank of Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia. “Dr. Smart's papers were highly cited in the specific caveolae/cardiovascular research field.” William Sessa of the Yale University School of Medicine told The Scientist by email that he was “shocked at the extent of misconduct,” and that the reporting of data for knockout mice that did not exist in grant applications “is very problematic indeed.” But, he added, “since I do not know what aspects of the figures were incorrect or misrepresented, it is difficult to assess the impact on the field.” 

Smart did his PhD at UK and was awarded an endowed chair in 2003. His research brought in $8 million in federal grants, according to the UK, mostly from National Institutes of Health agencies such as the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute and the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Smart, who resigned from his position shortly after the first round of investigations was complete in May 2011, was not available for comment but the Kentucky newspaper Lexington Herald Leader reported that he is now working as a chemistry teacher in a local school.

As a result of the investigation, the UK recommended that the 10 affected papers be corrected or retracted, though the Journal of Biochemistry and the American Journal of Physiology-Cell Physiology, which published the bulk of the papers in question, did not return emails and calls seeking comment. For his part, Smart has agreed to exclude himself from federal grant applications for the next 7 years—longer than the typical 3- or 5-year bans.

As for the 13 researchers previously employed in Smart’s lab, William Thro, general counsel for UK, said they “have moved on to other projects and endeavors.” And, he noted, “to my knowledge there has been no request for the return of funds to the federal government and other agencies.”

Add a Comment

Avatar of: You



Sign In with your LabX Media Group Passport to leave a comment

Not a member? Register Now!

LabX Media Group Passport Logo


Avatar of: AndyO


Posts: 1

November 28, 2012

I guess I don't understand why academics are held to such a low standard.  Why isn't this guy going to JAIL for fraud -- he stole MY MONEY and your money, my taxes, your taxes, by perpetrating a fraud.  How is he different from the doctor who files false Medicare bills, or a tax cheat or government employee who steals.  They would all go to jail, and face restitution of all the money they took.  Why are academics exempt from all of our laws?  If I stole from my employer, I'd go to jail.  

How is simply agreeing not to fleece the public for a few years any kind of deterrent or punishment?  (Based on the number of these stories I see in The Scientist, I don't think it is).  When I see these articles I get so mad -- people complain about the underfunding of basic reseacrch, but are unwilling to do anything about the waste and fraud that makes it so much harder to garner support for increased funding.

Avatar of: Nova


Posts: 1

November 28, 2012

Seems like a slap on the hand for Dr. Smart. This conduct errodes the confidence that the public has for research. Institutions need to demonstrate what measures are implemented to prevent and discourage this conduct.

Hope that the "Smart" professor along with the institution be responsable in paying a good amount of the money back.


Avatar of: Shi V. Liu

Shi V. Liu

Posts: 8

November 28, 2012

Let us pay attention to a (potentially) "noble" misconduct:

A research paper reported generation of "induced pluripotent stem cells" (iPSCs) from tissue cultures that were heterogeneous in terms of cell age and cell differentiation of the composing cells. But a "preview" published along with this paper FIRMLY concluded that the researchers achieved reversing TERMINALLY differentiated cells back to pluripotent cells that are INDISTINGUISHABLE from EMBRYONIC stem cells (ESCs). Mass media were even excited with this aging-reversal magic breakthrough and politicians also jumped high with a hope that iPSCs can replace ESCs as “safe” and “ethical” stem cells for research and therapy.

But when a challenge that the iPSCs are incorrectly programmed stem cells that pre-exist before the transformation or, in a modern term, the reprogramming was raised, the leading researcher responded: "We agree that the origin of iPS cells may be tissue stem or progenitor cells co-existing in fibroblast cultures". He even declared that "We have never claimed that we generated iPS cells from terminally differentiated cells". However, this researcher is now very happy with the award of a Nobel Prize to him "for the discovery that mature cells can be reprogrammed to become pluripotent".

Now, my question is: will this researcher be eventually found guilty of something if it turns out indeed that he has never achieved the "dedifferentiation" of (terminally differentiated) mature cells back into pluripotent (embryonic) cells?

November 28, 2012

Should the scientific community be surprised by these finding? Hardly!


Why, Richard Dawkins himself, the renowned scientist, has made us believe and has convinced us for well over a decade now that the human being is nothing more than a 'vehicle for genetic transport' to be propelled by the need to reproduce.


Hogwash, of course, when one considers that the human being in particular is making a conscious choice time and again whether to reproduce or not.

So is Mr.Dawkins trying to convince us further that the human being is capable of placing our species out of the evolutionary chain of events as laid out by Mr.Dawkins? Strange how that goes. Haven't heard much from Mr.Dawkins how it is all supposed to work in unison: to be and have as driving force the reproduction aspect and to have the choice whether to reproduce or not.

Either the genetic information must have a split personality built in or Mr.Dawkins is allowed for getting away with being of split mind.

Let him set the record straight, I'd say!

Avatar of: Paul W.

Paul W.

Posts: 1

November 28, 2012

Scientific misconduct should be treated like any other form of misconduct. Appropriate sanctions that fit the misconduct should be applied. However, I don't think political or personal attacks add anything to attempting to understand or limit the damage of misconduct. I particularly do not like anti-science or anti-intellectual attacks by persons who have no interest in science. The antiscience luddities opinions are of no importance.

Replied to a comment from Paul W. made on November 28, 2012

November 28, 2012

Paul W.: Perhaps you meant to use the word 'luddites' in your last sentence?

Of course, scientific misconduct should be treated like any other form of misconduct.

And since scientific research is often associated with grants coming out of tax money (although apparently not in this case) it is difficult to keep the misconduct of scientific research completely out of the political realm.

Furthermore, not all intellectual thinking need necessarily be science based.


Avatar of: Shi V. Liu

Shi V. Liu

Posts: 8

November 28, 2012

The following statement was taken from a publication in Logical Biology (7: 63-65, 2007):

In order to prove that pluripotent stem cells are truly induced (generated or created) from the terminally differentiated cells, one must demonstrate that new stem cells are really generated either from the reprogramming of the non-stem cells or reproduction of the stem cells. In either case, there should be many more stem cells after the induction, at least more than the normal ratio of stem cells in a specific tissue under the study.

I suggest the following key experiments for unambiguously demonstrating the induction (generation or creation) of stem cells from non-stem cells.

Labeling a non-stem cell (such as a true terminally differentiated cell) and then applied the induction procedure. Watch this cell (either continuously or non-continuously but reliable tracking is essential) to see if it can be changed to a stem cell which should be reflected not only by the expression of the introduced stem cell markers or other stem cell markers but also its capability of reproducing other cells with different fates and thus contributing to the formation of different other tissues.

As a control, one should also label a true stem cell and then applied the induction procedure. Watch this cell (either continuously or non-continuously but reliable tracking is required) to see if it can remain as a stem cell. This maintenance of stemness should be reflected not only by the expression of the introduced stem cell markers but also its intrinsic capability of reproducing other cells with different fates (contributing to the formation of different tissues).

Repeat the above experiments for sufficient times and then compare the results, if none of the terminally differentiated cells can be induced into a stem cell but many stem cells still remain as the stem cell after the induction, then one really cannot say that there is any induction. Most likely the so-called induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells are those pre-existing stem cells. If there is indeed no induction (generation or creation) of any stem cell by the described induction process, then it is inappropriate to call these selected pre-existing stem cells as the induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs). Thus a so-called “magic brew” of “these four genes can reprogram any cell” and “simple switch turns cells embryonic” should be recognized as a misunderstanding or misrepresentation.


Yamanaka replied to the author of the article by saying “I agree that the experiments your proposed are important.”

However, more than five years have passed but there is no publication from Yamanaka's group reporting any of the above IMPORTANT single-cell level tracking experiments. Why?

Avatar of: Shi V. Liu

Shi V. Liu

Posts: 8

November 28, 2012

Shi V. Liu discovered iPSCs as incorrectly programmed stem cells or man-made cancer cells when Yamanaka and others were still claiming so-called cancer-free iPSCs. As a matter of fact, Liu's criticism on Yamanaka's cancer-free iPSCs published in Science has resulted in a correction by Yamanaka which even "thanked" Liu and recognized the cancer risk of the so-called "cancer-free" iPSCs. However, when Yamanaka later published his separate study on the "varied safety" of iPSCs he did not cite any of Liu's earlier publications on the safety risk of iPSCs. Is this normal or ethical?

Avatar of: Shi V. Liu

Shi V. Liu

Posts: 8

November 28, 2012

Yamanaka’s journal/magazine publications on iPSCs have been very “positive” and thus presented a “great” picture for iPSCs. However, if one read his patents on iPSCs, one should find that his iPSCs are not as good as that projected to the readers of the journals/magazines. For example, his granted U.S. patent for generating iPSCs with Yamanaka factors has been linked with generating cancerous iPSCs. Thus, he filed another two patent applications in U.S. to select final “safe” iPSCs from those initial iPSCs.

Thus, for those who wish to know the truth of iPSCs, I strongly urge them to read Yamanaka’s patent disclosures. In my opinion, those patent disclosures are more close to the reality of iPSCs than those journal/magazine publications.

Avatar of: HDD


Posts: 1

December 7, 2012

@ Shi V. Liu. You have made this forum into a place to vent your own grudge and to say that your great work was not cited and that according to you amounts to fraud! My opinion about a few things..

1) Neither ESC's nor iPSC technologies are ready for transplantation or for personalized medicine yet and they won't be for another 10 years at least! So, let's move on

2) Regarding reprogramming experiments of yamanaka, a number of people have been able to repeat them. Growing number of iPSC lines in every field is an example of this. And now to the question of if they are stem cells residing in between fibroblasts- do we care? As long as the resulting cells can be differentiated to different lineages which recapitulate the patient phenotype, this technology is a valuable tool to understand disease situations and to test pharmaceutical compounds. This work has undoubtedly opened new avenues. 

3) the points you raised are absolutely important when iPSC cells will be used for transplantation experiments. But until then, lets look at the bright side of the story 


Avatar of: Amore


Posts: 3

December 14, 2012

Is the new employer of 'Dr' Smart aware of his past academic 'triumphs'? Is is acceptable then, that high school students be exposed to a teacher of this calire? I think its quite unfair and the students ought to have someone standing somewhere to represent their best interests.

Avatar of: kitapbigi


Posts: 20

February 11, 2013


To Dave20640, 65% is the proportion of the 2,000 retracted articles, not of all articles published. If 200,000 articles were published, that would be only 2/3 of one percent of all articles published; not a stunning number. I didn't see anything in the article (or the linked material) that indicated whether 2,000 was large or not, by comparison. What perplexes me is that these people think they are not going to get caught. That makes me wonder if there's a lot more going on than we know about, that they do know about. I then wonder why we don't see, in these reports, information that they were asked if, in their experience, this kind of behavior is widespread. Not that we would necessarily be confident about the veracity of their observations. kredi hesaplama-evim şahane - fragman izle - mobilya modelleri


Popular Now

  1. Could Rapamycin Help Humans Live Longer?
  2. Renowned Physicist Stephen Hawking Dies
  3. Pupil Response to an Optical Illusion Tied to Autistic Traits
  4. John Sulston, Human Genome Project Leader, Dies