Resveratrol Scientists React to Fraud Scandal

Shelley Wood

January 13, 2012

January 13, 2012 (New York, New York) — As the controversy over the research fraud allegations against Dr Dipak Das enter its third day, researchers, clinicians, and red-wine enthusiasts more generally are wondering just what the news means for the field of resveratrol research. At the very least, scientists told heartwire , plans for an international meeting scheduled for later this year have been turned upside down: Das was one of just eight international experts on the scientific committee for Resveratrol 2012.

As previously reported by heartwire , the University of Connecticut found evidence that Das had fabricated and falsified data in dozens of published papers, many asserting that resveratrol, found in red wine, improved cardiovascular health. The university is in the process of dismissing Das and has already returned $890 000 of the federal research funding awarded to Das.

The case is attracting more than the usual flurry of interest for a research fraud case, in part because red wine has long enjoyed a reputation as a heart-smart accompaniment to a healthy diet: resveratrol has emerged as a key candidate in molecular studies looking at just how wine benefits the cardiovascular system. Interest in the compound culminated in the first international resveratrol meeting, held in Denmark in 2010, and led to a position paper published in PLoS One on which Das was an author [1].

Resveratrol 2012 is to be held in Lucknow, India, December 10-12, 2012.

Chair of the scientific committee, Dr Ole Vang, told heartwire by email that he was too ill to speak by phone Friday. Instead, he referred calls to Dr Joseph Wu (New York Medical College, Valhalla, NY), who told heartwire he's been invited to the meeting, but "now I don't really know if it's going to be held or not! I hope so, because I think the field of resveratrol could benefit from a group of scientists [getting together] who have a common interest on trying to understand how this molecule works. But given the current interest and climate surrounding Dr Das, I don't know."

Another member of the scientific committee, however, Dr John M Pezzuto (University of Hawaii, Hilo), told heartwire the meeting "absolutely" will go ahead as planned.

"First of all, if you look at the 4000 [published] papers, resveratrol has potential in many different therapeutic areas. . . . There's a big laundry list of therapeutic areas and many workers in addition to Das, in cardiac work as well. So I don't think [the controversy] is going to affect that adversely at all--it might actually gain it more attention."

Pezzuto also confirmed that Vang has written to the other members of the scientific committee "and said, basically, chill out," while the investigation into Das plays out.

The case "looks pretty bleak," Pezzuto said, "but we don't fully know. . . . If he is proven guilty I would assume he would resign and if he doesn't I expect Ole will consult with us and we'll take action."

This "Won't Impact Body of Science"

Another member of the scientific committee, Dr Nihal Ahmad (University of Wisconsin), told heartwire that he believed he and other committee members would be "review[ing] the situation."

"I am myself following the story very closely," Ahmad said. "However, I do not believe that this is going to have much effect on the body of science, especially because the effect of resveratrol has been verified by a number of researchers and there is a comprehensive amount of data in a variety of experimental models suggesting that resveratrol may be useful against certain diseases. Thus, even if some of Dr Das's work is false and retracted, it will not likely impact the body of science on this very promising agent."

Those views, not surprisingly, were echoed by Pezzuto and Wu, the latter noting that Das's work was concentrated in a specific ischemia-reperfusion model, but that he was not the only researcher using this model.

Pezzuto also pointed to the position paper derived from the 2010 meeting on which he, as well as Das, Vang, Wu, and Ahmad are all coauthors, noting that it clearly concludes that the existing evidence is not strong enough to recommend administration of resveratrol to humans. "I can say that during the course of that meeting there were no signs of any impropriety from Das or anyone else in terms of lack of integrity or pushing an agenda or trying to bias the report in any way," Pezzuto told heartwire . "There is a broad body of scientific investigation that supports certain perceived benefits for heart health, beyond Dr Das, and ultimately you can see in our report, and we state it pretty unequivocally, to say that the compound has clinical activity you need to perform clinical trials."

He continued: "My personal opinion is, if Dr Das or his people doctored some Western blots, it's not going to affect the pathway forward [for resveratrol] because ultimately the same body of evidence exists beyond what he's published indicating that there's some potential, and ultimately trials need to be conducted to prove that it's efficacious or not."

heartwire contacted the American Heart Association for its views on the Das debacle. Dr Gordon Tomaselli (Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD), speaking in generalities rather than commenting on the specifics of the Das case, made the point that research misconduct happens. It remains key, he said, that scientific process and clinical recommendations never rely too heavily on work conducted by a single group or a single laboratory. Nor, he added, should a single instance of malfeasance unduly influence an entire field.

"On balance here, the evidence is in favor of improvement in cardiovascular risk with [moderate red-wine consumption], because of the components that are part of alcohol and red wine in particular," Tomaselli told heartwire . "The message here is that a single incident like this doesn't undermine the overall hypothesis about wine/alcohol and CV risk."

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