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An investigation by the US Office of Research Integrity has found that exosome biologist Douglas Taylor engaged in research misconduct while funded by the National Cancer Institute and the National Institutes of Health. The former University of Louisville School of Medicine professor “used falsely labeled images to falsely report data in figures” in 13 grant applications, one of which was funded, and in two published papers, according to the ORI case summary, which was updated yesterday (November 22).

Investigations into Taylor’s misconduct stretch back to at least 2015, Retraction Watch reports, when the University of Louisville (UL) conducted an investigation into Taylor’s potential misconduct. Its institutional investigation committee determined that multiple figures in a 2006 paper on which he was the first author were falsified and requested that the paper be retracted from the Journal of Immunology, according to a 2015 retraction statement on the journal’s website. In a written statement to Retraction Watch that same year, Taylor called the investigation results “biased” and argued that neither he nor his wife Cicek Gercel-Taylor, a fellow researcher at UL who was a coauthor on the study, were involved in the creation of the falsified figures.

According to Retraction Watch, UL forwarded the results of its investigation to ORI, which conducted an oversight review of UL’s investigation and collected additional evidence before publishing its own misconduct findings. Taylor’s mislabeling of images in the 15 flagged applications and papers was done “intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly,” according to the ORI report, and in one instance Taylor “plagiarized, reused, and falsely labeled an image to falsely report data in a figure.”

Prior to the current investigations, Taylor was best known for publishing papers in the early 1980s documenting what are now called tumor-secreted exosomes—vesicles secreted by tumor cells that facilitate cell-cell communication and allow the tumor cells to migrate in the body—and for his subsequent exosome research. The now-dissolved biotech company Exosome Sciences (ESI), where Taylor served as chief scientific officer from 2013-2015, worked to find exosome biomarkers and “diagnose and monitor life-threatening diseases,” according to the company's profile page on former majority shareholder Aethlon Medical’s website.

Taylor has also previously investigated exosomes in pregnancy and preterm birth; the flagged grant applications and papers all concern exosomes in cancer or pregnancy, and both flagged papers were published in the journal Gynecologic Oncology. The second flagged paper, which characterized microRNA signatures of tumor-derived exosomes, has been cited more than 1,780 times, Retraction Watch notes.

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ORI’s announcement precludes Taylor from receiving federal grant funding or serving on federal public health services advisory boards or peer review committees for a period of three years beginning October 17, 2022. Taylor has not responded to Retraction Watch’s request for comment.

Correction (December 5). A previous version of this article stated that Taylor is currently the chief scientific officer of Exosome Sciences. Taylor did work for the company starting in 2013, but he departed in 2015, according to a representative from Aethlon Medical. ESI was then dissolved in September 2022, the representative adds. The Scientist regrets the error.