Feds (Finally) Say that Researcher Faked Data

Nick Mulcahy

November 09, 2015

After a lengthy investigation, the US Office of Research Integrity (ORI) has found that Anil Potti, MD, a former Duke University cancer researcher, "engaged in research misconduct" in work supported by various federal grants.

The judgment is the "final action" in the case, according to an ORI report published online today in the Federal Register.

The ORI says that Dr Potti falsified research data in published papers, in a submitted manuscript, in a grant application, and in "the research record."

The disgraced researcher generated a lot of news coverage along the way because his fraud was executed in a grand manner, with fake data in high-profile studies in medicine's biggest and best journals. His phony research was highly influential and led to the initiation of several large clinical trials sponsored by the National Cancer Institute, which were halted when questions about the reproducibility of the results were raised, as reported by Medscape Medical News.

Dr Potti also had a flair for the dramatic, claiming to be a Rhodes Scholar and the winner of various research awards; these later turned out to be unsubstantiated.

Notably, Dr Potti has not admitted to the federal investigators that he committed fraud.

Instead, he entered into a "voluntary settlement agreement and "neither admits nor denies ORI's findings of research misconduct," according to the ORI.

The ORI report suggests that the settlement was done for the sake of expedience: "The settlement is not an admission of liability on the part of the Respondent [Dr Potti]. The parties entered into the Agreement to conclude this matter without further expenditure of time, finances, or other resources."

Among the misconduct findings, the ORI concluded that false data were reported on the following subjects:

  • a predictor of thrombotic phenotypes (Blood. 2006107:1391-1396)

  • a predictor of lung cancer relapse (N Engl J Med. 2006; 355:570-580)

  • a predictor of the response to the chemotherapeutic drugs topotecan and docetaxel (Nat Med. 2006;12:1294-1300)

  • a predictor of the response to the chemotherapeutic drug cisplatin (J Clinical Oncol.2007;25:4350-4357)

  • a predictor of the response to the combination of the chemotherapeutic drugs fluorouracil, epirubicin, and cyclophosphamide, or docetaxel, epirubicin, and docetaxel (Lancet Oncol.2007;8:1071-1078)

  • a predictor of breast cancer relapse (JAMA. 2008;299:1574-1587)

  • a predictor for the response to the chemotherapeutic drugs paclitaxel, 5-fluouracil, adriamycin, and cyclophosphamide (PLoS One. 2008;3:e1908)

  • a predictor of colon cancer recurrence (Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2008;105:19432-19437)

  • a predictor of the response to the chemotherapeutic drug cisplatin (Clin Cancer Res. 2009;15:7553-7561)

All these studies have now been retracted.

The agreement between the ORI and Dr Potti stipulates, among other things, that if Dr Potti "obtains employment in a research position in which he receives or applies" for US Public Health Service grant support in the next 5 years, he will have his research supervised for a period of 5 subsequent years.

Dr Potti has recently been working at a cancer center in Grand Forks, North Dakota, according to a report in Retraction Watch.

The prolonged scandal involving Dr Potti could have been stopped earlier in its course, according to a report in the Cancer Letter earlier this year. A Duke medical student acted as a whistle-blower and warned university officials about Dr Potti's misconduct in 2008, but the student, Bradford Perez, was effectively silenced by school officials and researchers.


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