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Red wine researcher Dr. Dipak K. Das published fake data: UConn

  1. Gradient
    Are studies tying red wine to health benefits nothing more than wishful thinking? Some red wine studies may soon be called into question following a report that a top researcher at the University of Connecticut falsified data on more than 100 occasions.

    UConn officials conducted an internal review into the work of Dr. Dipak K. Das, director of the cardiovascular research center at the university, after the university received an anonymous tip. Das had been known in recent years for his research on the benefits of resveratrol, a compound found in red wine. Resveratrol is thought to work because it activates proteins called sirtuins that have been shown in studies to have protective benefits.

    The officials found 145 cases of fabricated or false data and notified 11 journals - including the Journal of Cellular & Molecular Medicine and Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry - of its review, the university said in a written statement.

    "We have a responsibility to correct the scientific record and inform peer researchers across the country," Philip Austin, interim vice president for health affairs, said in the statement.

    As a result of UConn's three-year investigation that culminated in a 60,000 page report on the allegations, UConn has declined $890,000 in research grants and cut off external funding to the lab.

    It's unclear at this time which studies contained falsified data, so wine aficionados can hold out hope that red wine might benefit a person's health.

    The Connecticut Mirror reports that much of the research discrepancies centered on "western blot" figures, which illustrate specific proteins from tissue samples. The review showed these images may have been manipulated to combine data from other experiments, which were passed off as coming from a single experiment.

    "Many figures had more manipulations but, for expediency, the review board only noted the most obvious," in flagging 145 cases of misconduct according, to the paper.

    According to the research bibliography site PubMed, Das has served as a lead author or co-author on more than 150 articles, including a Jan. 2012 study titled, "Health benefits of wine and alcohol from neuroprotection to heart health," published in Frontiers in Bioscience.

    Das' other areas of research besides resveratrol include medicines derived from plants and the molecular structure of plants and herbs and their effect on heart disease, according to the Associated Press.

    Earlier reservatrol studies have suggested the compound might be "exercise in a bottle" in its ability to stave off the effects of a sedentary lifestyle, while other research has said the compound might reduce risk for skin cancer. According to the Mayo Clinic, some studies have showed resveratrol lowers levels of "bad" cholesterol and protects the lining of heart blood vessels.

    In 2009, 60 Minutes' Morley Safer profiled potential benefits of resveratrol.

    Some resveratrol researchers were not concerned by the fraud allegations and still believe the compound can improve longevity.

    "I don't expect this news to have a big impact on what we work on," Dr. David Sinclair, a resveratrol researcher at the Harvard Medical School, told CBS News in an email. Sinclair had been featured in the 2009 60 Minutes report. Sinclair said his research focuses on sirtuins and aging, while a lot of the published research papers in question focused on heart health.

    "There is a comprehensive body of literature in mouse and rats indicating that resveratrol is effective in preventing numerous diseases in those animals, including type II diabetes, neurodegeneration, fatty liver, and inflammation, Sinclair said. "These results would not be in question, even if some of his work is retracted."

    Published: January 12, 2012 9:50 AM
    By: Ryan Jaslow | Place: UConn Health Center | Agency: CBS News



  1. madscientistgirly
    Interesting article, thanks for the post. Always so disappointing and shameful to hear of researchers falsifying data. Have been curious about reservatrol to some degree, wonder to what degree this will affect the body of knowledge on this substance.
  2. Gradient
    Below is the document detailing findings of the investigation. This guy was just publicly drawn and quartered. An example of how science meticulously and carefully polices itself. His career in research, medicine, and biology in general will inevitably be very abruptly and deservedly terminated for such unethical havoc wrecked upon the careers of other researchers, clinicians, students, and institutions.

    There will certainly be some general fallout, and research funded to evaluate studies related to his lab - likely via tracing citations of his papers used in other publications. However, as Dr Sinclair was quick to state - there's plenty of independently proven data about resveratrol's action. This does, however, explain much of the contradictory research out there on the compound. If a lab is publishing sound science, however, there's nothing to worry about. Regardless, I'm sure every lab that's published information based upon or citing his research are in a hurry to validate every iota of their data.

    Special Review Board Report Investigation of Allegation of Research Misconduct
    Office of Research Integrity Case #DIO 3995
  3. salviablue
    I was under the assumption that for findings to be considered valid, they must be consistantly reproduceable? Wouldn't peer review have confirmed his conclusions or foun them questionable? Or am I being naive?

    Obviously, not every paper is going to be tested as to its validity, especially when coming from a respected and trusted source, however, if assertations and assumptions for the basis of further work are to be based on these findings, I would have expected scientific prudence.
  4. Gradient
    Not naive at all; you bring up good points. The peer review process for journal publication does not entail reproduction of results, as this would greatly hinder an already drawn-out process. Members of relevant fields are selected to read prospective publications and probe for areas of a paper that may be weak, given conclusions drawn - and generally evaluate the validity of conclusions drawn given data presented. Often a paper submitted to a journal may be returned to researchers with comments to rectify poorly presented data, request additional experiments, re-write/add sections, etc. Papers are also simply rejected by journals - at which point authors will submit to a new (likely lower impact) journal, perhaps after modifying the content of their paper.

    However, if data presented exhibits no problems - and conclusions drawn are rational, given data presented - the peer-review process is unlikely to pick up on falsified data. This is where ethics plays a major role; researchers are assumed to act with ethical integrity, and every Ph.D. program in the U.S. is mandated to include detailed courses in ethics and case studies of falsified data. I'll be shocked if all journals don't already have (or aren't establishing within the next few hours) a department designed to evaluate data in the form of images submitted for markers of tampering. Unfortunately, no system is perfect - but as far as we know, this one has worked very well. Instances like this do send concerned shockwaves throughout the community, however.

    It's also worth noting that there is indeed a level of 'corruption', for lack of a better term, involved in the process of science publication. Not blatant bribes or favors. But whom one knows - as well as the reputation of one's institution - absolutely influences the probability that, and speed at which, one's paper will be published. In this case, the University of Connecticut is a reasonably well-established name in the biological sciences, though I can't imagine it's a name that'd make a huge difference here. I can't speak to the reputation of Dipak Das prior to publication, however, nor his social network.

    It'd be interesting to know how many journals his lab's initial studies were submitted to, and if any concerns were raised by review committees.

    Yes I'd also expect that other labs had performed pilot studies prior to pursuing publication-class research, diving into an avenue of inquiry established by an unrelated lab. This lends credence to the defense of many studies concerning resveratrol's physiological activity; if other labs didn't falsify data, then they've nothing to worry about. That's not to say that many researchers aren't fretting. Quite the contrary; I imagine this has provoked considerable tension in every lab performing research even scarcely related to Dipak Das's.

    It'll be interesting to watch how Dipak Das will be handled legally - as I'm not sure such influential misconduct of this scale has occurred recently, in an age where every day presents significant innovations in the biological sciences and labs are so widely collaborative and interconnected.
  5. Gradient
    University Suspects Fraud by a Researcher Who Studied Red Wine

    A charge of widespread scientific fraud, involving 26 articles published in 11 journals, was leveled by the University of Connecticut today against Dipak K. Das, one of its researchers, whose work reported health benefits in red wine.

    Many of the articles reported positive effects from resveratrol, an ingredient of red wine thought to promote longevity in laboratory animals.

    The charges, if verified, seem unlikely to affect the field of resveratrol research itself, because Dr. Das’s work was peripheral to its central principles, several of which are in contention. “Today I had to look up who he is. His papers are mostly in specialty journals,” said David Sinclair, a leading resveratrol expert at the Harvard Medical School.

    The significance of the case seems more to reflect on the general system of apportioning research money. Researchers complain that federal grants are increasingly hard to get, even for high-quality research, yet money seemed to have flowed freely to Dr. Das, who was generating research of low visibility and apparently low quality. The University of Connecticut said Wednesday that it was returning two new grants to Dr. Das, worth a total of $890,000, to the federal government.

    The agency that granted the funds was the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. Renate Myles, a spokeswoman, said in response that scientific misconduct “can go undetected for a length of time even under the most rigorous systems of research oversight and review.”

    The investigation of Dr. Das’s work began in January 2009, two weeks after the university received an anonymous allegation about research irregularities in his laboratory. A special review board headed by Dr. Kent Morest of the University of Connecticut has now produced a 60,000-page report, which has been forwarded to the Office of Research Integrity, a federal agency that investigates fraud by researchers who receive government grants.

    According to a 60-page summary of the report, Dr. Das’s published research articles were found to contain 145 instances of fabrication and falsification of data. Many involved cutting and pasting photographic images from a type of research record known as a western blot. Because western blots have often been subject to manipulations in the past, many journals require that the images not be altered in any way without an explicit description of the procedure.

    Dr. Das did not answer his phone at the university or respond to e-mail.

    The university has sent a copy of its report to the editors of the 11 journals that published the suspect articles.

    Adam Marcus, who edits the blog Retraction Watch, an inventory of the growing number of discredited scientific reports, said he would be monitoring the journals to see whether retractions were issued, a step that some editors are reluctant to take.

    Dr. Das was a prolific publisher of research. His name appears on 588 articles listed in Google Scholar, though some may be by other researchers with the same name and initials. Most of the articles concern the effect of drugs on the heart, including 117 articles on resveratrol.

    Published: January 11, 2012
    By: Nicholas Wade | Place: University of Connecticut | Agency: The New York Times

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