Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

Imperial College London, where Jatinder Ahluwalia did his PhD, now repeating his key experiments

with 50 comments

We have more news about Jatinder Ahluwalia, whose career has so far been punctuated by dismissal from the University of Cambridge for faking data, and by having been found guilty of scientific misconduct at University College London. Yesterday, we reported that Ahluwalia hadn’t told Imperial College London UCL — where he earned his PhD — about being dismissed from Cambridge.

Today, we learned that Imperial College London, where he he earned his PhD, has also had concerns over Ahluwalia’s work, and is repeating some of his experiments. In a statement, a College spokesperson told Retraction Watch: 

The College can confirm that Jatinder Ahluwalia completed a PhD at Imperial College London.

Imperial has high standards of professional integrity and treats any allegations of science misconduct seriously. Details of its procedure for investigating allegations are on the website at:

The College reviewed concerns around Dr Ahluwalia’s research last year.  In light of new information received the College has taken the decision to re-run a number of key experiments and will act on the findings of these if appropriate.

That was the entire statement; we also wanted to know whether Ahluwalia had informed Imperial of his Cambridge dismissal when he applied. Yesterday, a helpful commenter described the postdoc applications at several UK universities, so that we could determine whether it was likely that University College London’s application asked about such dismissals. And now that we know his work is being reviewed, we’d like to know whether that means his PhD could be revoked.

A reminder that we were prompted to start looking into this case by a retraction notice in Nature last fall.

Meanwhile, faculty at the University of East London, where Ahluwalia is now on the faculty, are “in uproar about lack of progress” investigating the situation. We will of course update if we hear more.

Written by Ivan Oransky

February 22nd, 2011 at 1:30 pm

  • LNV February 22, 2011 at 2:28 pm

    I’m curious also about what it means that the college is trying to reproduce his work. Who is doing this? His PhD advisor? And will they attempt to reproduce everything, and then report what % (if any) was flawed? Or will they stop once they are unable to replicate a study (if that does occur)?? I am in no way intending to stand up for this guy, but wonder what degree of effort should be put into this endeavor, and who will spend the time (and MONEY) to do so.

    • augenauf February 24, 2011 at 1:48 pm

      During the frenzy over Ahluwalia, don’t forget that Segal’s first Nature paper was also physically impossible.

      American Physiological Society

      Voltage-Gated Proton Channels Find Their Dream Job Managing the Respiratory Burst in Phagocytes

      ….. “”Because of the magnitude of the charge compensation problem in neutrophil phagosomes, the choice of ion to compensate charge is critical. For example, if charge were compensated by K+ flux into the phagosome, the resulting 4 M K+ would swell the phagosome to ~25 times its original volume, which does not occur (175)…..”””

      • Ionic February 24, 2011 at 7:00 pm

        The frenzy is because many people have taken time and effort to design and carry out experiments based on Dr Ahluwalia’s fraudulent research.

        Future research is based on a backbone of past published work which pushes the field towards new achievements and ideas.

        If that work is “made up” and not true then peoples time and research money is wasted and the outcome of PhD students projects and careers are put at risk.

      • Anthony W Segal February 25, 2011 at 7:32 am

        Your blog entry was brought to my attention by colleagues.
        When seeking to discredit scientific work it is important to be sure of your facts, particularly if you write under the psuedonym of Auger Nauf (German for Eyes Open).
        The text you quote from the review by DeCoursey is accurately reproduced. However the information within the review is totally inaccurate. The true figure given in the manuscript to which you referred (Reeves et al Nature. 2002 Mar 21;416(6878):291-7) for the concentration of K+ in the phagocytic vacuole was 200-300mM and not the 4M stated by DeCoursey and indiscriminately reproduced by you. Might I suggest that both you and DeCoursey might both benefit from a careful reading of the original manuscript.

      • No data February 25, 2011 at 10:13 am

        UCL where Dr Ahluwalia worked (in lab of Prof Segal) has acted correctly and ethically in regards to retracting the Nature paper with Ahluwalia as the first author.

        Now Imperial has began an investigation

        However not much sign of action from UEL, Dr Ahluwalia seems to be still supervising BSc, MSc and accepting PhD students. I would have thought that at least he would have been suspended from such activities until the external inquiry is produced.

        I wonder what UEL will do if Imperial revokes his PhD? Probably nothing based on present evidence.

    • patchboy March 3, 2011 at 11:06 am

      Of course Imperial College has a research reputation to uphold and any evidence of misconduct will be investigated to the full I am sure. Its not just whether the data is fake, but in fact whether you can trust data produced by researchers at Imperial. The vast majority of scientists are honest but it takes just one bad apple to make the rest of the crop to start to smell. Many people have attempted to repeat Dr Ahluwalias research and have failed or refuted his findings. However some kind of thin-line should be drawn. If it turns out that Dr Ahluwalias data is unrepeatable then I think it is the duty of Imperial to consider revoking his PhD which would be the most ethical thing and should send a message to all scientists that making up data in the long run does not pay.

  • Reality check February 23, 2011 at 5:39 am

    Most papers have key experiments on which the whole paper stands on. My guess is that they will attempt to repeat the key experiments. If the key experiments cannot be repeated then they will probably go for all experiments in the paper. At the end of the day it is Imperial’s reputation that is also at stake here. If the experiments just do not work at the concentrations of drugs used then the paper should be retracted. If this data was used in his PhD then his PhD should be revoked.

    Whatever the outcome its good that scientific credibility is being scrutinized. Maybe this will send a message to anybody who thinks they can get away with making up data.

  • ion channel man February 23, 2011 at 7:12 am

    Jatinder Ahluwalia has a somewhat prolific publication record. Based on pubmed he published 3 research papers in 2010, three papers in 2009 and a further 3 papers in 2008 at the University of East London. Looking at these papers it seems that he only has one person working for him and no external collaborations. This is somewhat unbelievable given the size of his research group and the amount of effort it takes to publish just one paper.

    Is UEL looking into these papers. If not why not.

  • Neuroskeptic February 23, 2011 at 8:17 am

    Amazingly he won a “UEL Promising Researcher Award”, of over£11,000, from UEL last year:

    • Concerned February 23, 2011 at 2:55 pm

      Obviously he has or had the support of the Dean (Neville Punchard). Thats why the Dean is probably reluctant to speak to the Faculty at UEL. The Dean has considerable “egg” on his face in my opinion for supporting this researcher

  • juniorprof February 23, 2011 at 11:56 am

    So I guess this means that ICL will be looking into his cannabinoid-related papers from his Ph.D.? This is getting very interesting! Presumably this means that they will also be looking into the “correction” of the J Neurochem paper?

    • Ionic February 23, 2011 at 3:05 pm

      Good point the J Neurochem paper from 2003 was already looked at by Imperial and an erratum published in 2010.
      This indicated that despite substantial proof reading the amount of drug used was stated as pmol/ul throughout the original manuscript. This was corrected to pmol/ml in the erratum, 1000 times more and hardly physiological. Personally the whole paper should have been retracted. I wonder what J Neurochem and the editors that reviewed this paper think?

      • juniorprof February 23, 2011 at 3:16 pm

        considering that it take anandamide out of the pharmacological range, I agree. If I was a reviewer, I would feel duped.

  • Ionic February 23, 2011 at 3:41 pm

    The whole point of the paper was all about anandamide release from neurones (see below), so such a change in the stated amount of anandamide (which is outside the pharmacological range) puts the whole paper not just one figure into “cuckoo land”

    “Anandamide regulates neuropeptide release from capsaicin-sensitive primary sensory neurons by activating both the cannabinoid 1 receptor and the vanilloid receptor 1 in vitro.”

    • juniorprof February 23, 2011 at 3:50 pm

      totally agree!!

  • BTC February 23, 2011 at 4:21 pm

    Even if they repeat the data in question, and it comes out as the results that were published in the papers in question, this does not mean that Ahluwalia did not fabricate and/or falsify the data.

    Personally, I think even repeating the experiments is a waste of money. I don’t support what Mr. Ahluwalia allegedly did, but I understand that the University feels they need to do something in this matter. In my opinion, repetition that even produces the right results, won’t prove or disprove that Mr. Ahluwalia simply predicted the results.

    • Ionic February 23, 2011 at 4:34 pm

      I agree partly, if the results are not repeatable then the J Neurochem paper should be retracted and since his PhD was based on this paper his Phd should also be revoked.

      Of course given that the whole paper has been bought into question with the misrepresentation of the anandamide concentration released (whether intentional or a real mistake) then the authors should retract the whole paper for scientific integrity. Again given that the whole paper forms a major part of Jatinder Ahluwalia’s PhD it is a serious question whether his PhD should be revoked.

      Does it make a difference if the reason for revoking a PhD is due to a mistake (albeit a stupid one) or due to scientific misconduct?

      Also surely his supervisor (Dr Nagy at Imperial College) should have realized that the stated concentration of anandamide was wrong given that it was stated wrong several times in the manuscript

      • juniorprof February 24, 2011 at 11:02 am

        there are a whole gaggle of papers out there that dispute the findings in the papers from his PhD.

  • Dismyed scientist February 24, 2011 at 6:05 pm

    This is ridiculous the University of East London is showing lack of academic integrity by giving Dr if not Mr Ahluwalia PhD candidates and this raises serious ethical issues of practice by the Dean of the faculty where he is employed.

    • Ionic February 24, 2011 at 6:39 pm


      Jatinder Ahluwalia should be suspended from all research activities until the external investigation has given its verdict. Not to do so shows how seriously UEL takes this issue.

  • PhD the hard way February 24, 2011 at 7:18 pm

    Looking at Dr Ahluwalia’s publication record since joining UEL his major collaborator at UEL is a Dr Mike Salmon.

    If I was Dr Mike Salmon I would be extremely worried given Dr Ahluwalia’s past track record of data generation.

    • Peter Moseley April 14, 2011 at 6:07 am

      I agree. What has Mike Salmon been doing. He’s the senior author on several papers with Ahluwalia and should have got wind of the latters shenaningans. Rumours are always rife in a particular field with this sort of thing. Not enough quality control, or maybe something else……..

      • biology probe June 21, 2011 at 4:57 pm

        I am afraid the term “guilty by association” applies here.

  • Dismyed scientist February 26, 2011 at 6:10 am

    I agree also research done at such level is done by a team of researchers. Perhaps Ahluwalia did not like working in teams as it was much easier to cover his tracks!!
    I also find it amusing he wrote a paper on academic integrity. Has his position changed since then?

    • PhD the hard way February 26, 2011 at 4:30 pm

      Nine papers published in reasonable quality journals over three years at UEL by just two researchers, one of them a Senior Lecturer with a reasonable teaching load.

      Even working 24 hrs a day, 7 days a week its a lot

      Something not quite right

  • very concerned June 15, 2011 at 10:00 am

    Any news from Imperial or UEL? Is Mr. Ahluwalia still working at UEL? Is he still being supported by the Dean (who according to his website is Chair of the University Ethics Committee)?

    If UEL is still employing him, they must be joking in planning to charge £9,000 per year

    • PhD the hard way June 21, 2011 at 4:48 pm

      £9000 per year to take classes from a fraud like Ahluwalia. What is almost comical is that Ahluwalia was educated at UEL where he gained a BSc and MSc. I guess he learnt to cheat and make up results there, and now he has returned to carry on the tradition.

      • ion channel person June 21, 2011 at 4:54 pm

        Ahluwalia is making the Dean and the other staff look like a laughing stock. However given the lack of action on their part I have no sympathy for them. What are they waiting for. It has been well documented that Ahluwalia was thrown out of Cambridge for cheating and also well documented that Ahluwalia’s paper in nature was retracted due to proven data fabrication.

  • Peter July 1, 2011 at 4:18 pm

    I think it is absolutely atrocious the way Dr Ahluwalia has been treated by his ‘colleagues’ and perhaps they should ask themselves why they have not supported a fellow academic in the school. Clearly this is a matter undergoing investigation and we should wait until the facts relating to this case are made available. Instead of persisting with spreading malicious gossip perhaps his colleagues should appreciate that a person should be considered innocent of any allegations until proven otherwise. I find it incredible that anyone would consider joining the school in which such an unfriendly atmosphere exists where senior members of the faculty have allowed some staff members to totally vilify Ahluwalia in this way without any appropriate justification.

    • Marco July 2, 2011 at 6:45 am

      Peter, if someone has already been found guilty twice and failed to disclose he was fired, why do you blame his colleagues for demanding the university(!) is more forthcoming with information?

      I did not see any malicious gossip in the demand for more rapid action by his colleagues at UEL.

      • neuroman July 6, 2011 at 3:52 pm

        The facts are Ahluwalia was thrown out of Cambridge for fraud.

        Additionally his paper in Nature was retracted because of fraudulent data.

        These are the facts.

        Anybody who is still collaborating with Ahluwalia such as Mike salmon is in my mind guilty by association. To not distance yourself from him given these two proven facts is not the act of an innocent scientist but someone who is up to something.

    • Olive July 2, 2011 at 7:45 am

      I agree with Marco. Why has Ahluwalia found it unnecessary to contest any of the charges or actions taken against him? And why has his co-workers, such as M. Salmon, not done so either? If someone is innocent then they come out fighting to protect their reputation, particularly in scientific research that depends on honesty, and so do their co-workers who are implicated by association. Also as there have been no actions or statements coming out of the management at UEL for many months as to their judgements or opinions, you would expect the pressure to continue until they do. Not only is the reputation of Biosciences at UEL at stake, but so is the reputation of the whole university and, to some extent, all future and past students. Ahluwalia has an ethical duty to answer the charges or put so many other people’s reputation at stake. His silence speaks volumes and he should expect no sympathy.

      • Marco July 3, 2011 at 1:24 am

        I disagree on one point (but possibly out of ignorance): it is well possible that Ahluwalia is not allowed to react, as long as UEL is investigating. In my opinion it is UEL itself that will have to indicate where the investigation stands and when they expect it to be finished.

      • Olive July 3, 2011 at 8:45 am

        I’m referring to all the accusations he faced and the actions taken (dismissal, retraction etc), but did not contest, prior to his employment at UEL. Can you imagine a completely innocent scientist being accused of all these things and not even attending hearings or protesting to his co-workers, editors etc? Impossible.

      • Marco July 3, 2011 at 10:42 am

        Ah, OK. I thought you referred to the current investigation.

    • neuroman July 6, 2011 at 4:07 pm


      Oh you mean his PhD supervisor at Cambridge was telling lies when he chucked him out for data fabrication.


      You mean that UCL was wrong when it found him guilty of data fabrication and nobody could repeat his results.


      So you do not find it troubling that Imperial is now investigating his PhD work.

      Even if UEL finds Ahluwalia innocent of research misconduct at UEL the above proven facts remain he has been proven twice to be a fraud. Can you ever trust his data? Would you want to collaborate with him? Would you do a PhD with him? These are important questions- you do not need to wait for the results of an investigation from UEL you know the facts are that Ahluwalia was found guilty twice of data fabrication.

      Fact is nobody would consider joining your school if they knew they employed and supported someone who has been found guilty twice of data fabrication and no student especially research student should consider undertaking work in the same department until this issue is solved.

    • ricard p July 6, 2011 at 4:26 pm

      Sorry you are completely deluded. Nobody is going to support or even have anything to do with somebody who has been proven guilty of fraud on two occasions this is not idle gossip but proven facts. It does not matter what the results of the UEL investigation are, nobody outside of UEL will believe it and that is the most important thing- reputation takes years to build. Anybody thinking of joining UEL as staff would be better of unemployed than risking damaging their own scientific reputation.

      Anybody still collaborating with Ahluwalia such as Mike Salmon is guilty by association given Ahluwalia’s history of fraud

      Unfortunately in terms of University’s UEL is about as low as you can go so Ahluwalia has nowhere to go so you are stuck with him.

    • ion channel man July 7, 2011 at 7:02 am

      Facts are clear, Ahluwalia has been shown to be gulty on two occasions of scientific misconduct. I would not work in a lab anywhere near him due to possible sabotage. If the dean was acting ethically (note he is on the ethics comittee) then he should have suspended Ahluwalia from any research activities until the results of the investigation are concluded. Not to do so shows a belligerant attitude to other staff and students at UEL.

      Fact is even if UEL finds that Ahluwalia did not committ fraud at UEL (and it certainly is not in their interests to do so) it does not matter, maybe he just got better at predicting the outcome of experiments and learnt to cover his tracks now he is group leader. Anyhow facts remain what they are with and without the UEL investigation. Ahluwalia appears to be a serial data fabricator would you trust his data?

    • ion channel man July 7, 2011 at 7:11 am

      Maybe he has made too many enemies and not enough friends. You would have to question why someone with a Nature paper would want to come to UEL. Do not get me wrong, I am sure UEL provides a fine education but someone with a Nature paper would normally aim a lot higher and find employment at a University with a long history of research. Something does not add up.

    • ion channels are us July 11, 2011 at 5:32 am

      Good idea lets all band together to save our own tarnished reputation and support this scientist who has been found guilty of scientific misconduct at two research institutes!

  • Neuroskeptic July 2, 2011 at 1:49 pm

    Peter, it’s only innocent until proven guilty.

    • ion channel man July 7, 2011 at 10:30 am

      How many times does a researcher have to be found guilty of fraud. Ahluwalia has been found guilty on two occasions at different institutes – the reports were very clear on his actions and guilt was proven.

      Ahluwalia is not some innocent lamb he is a serial data fabricator and cannot be trusted to perform research let alone supervise PhD students.

      As for his PhD it looks like Imperial is now investigating. Although given that he misprepresented the drug concentrations used in the main results of his thesis by originally stating 1000 x less drug than actually used there is not much hope of this work being authenticated.

  • Olive July 3, 2011 at 9:17 am

    One relevant point here is that UEL has given Ahluwalia 11,350 pounds with regard to:

    “‘Modulation of ion channels in pro-inflammatory immune cells –targets for drug development.’ (the very subject of his retracted paper)

    “…. to further develop the patent for commercial exploitation and to publish numerous manuscripts in high-impact journals.”

    If he knew these outcomes were not possible, then I wonder if UEL could claim back the cash?

    • neuroman July 6, 2011 at 3:47 pm

      Ahluwalia is laughing in your face and has played the game and embedded himself into your department. Now the department bosses wont get rid of him since they have everything to lose in reputation. Although the longer this goes on unresolved the worse effect on UEL’s reputation.

      I am sure in a while some “independent UEL board” will pronounce his innocence, but the fact remains he was thrown out of Cambridge for fraud and found guilty by UCL of scientific fraud. Will anybody ever be able to trust his data or papers? Would any right minded person take a PhD with him?

      Your only hope is that the investigation by Imperial finds his data fraudulent and as a result his PhD is withdrawn.Unfortunately it is well known in this field of the unrepeatable nature of Ahluwalia’s data.

      The dean will look like a laughing stock if it all comes tumbling down. Correction the dean is a laughing stock.Now the department and dean have everything to lose especially given that he is the “star graduate” who made good, going from lowly graduate at UEL to PhD from Imperial and Nature paper. It was all too good to be true.

      Shame for UEL what ever is the outcome

    • ricard p July 6, 2011 at 5:29 pm

      Good point, I would have thought that Ahluwalia’s Nature paper contributed significantly to UEL’s RAE award, so will that money also be refunded. Possibly the 11,350 pounds came from the RAE money that was awarded to the department

  • neuroman July 6, 2011 at 3:28 pm

    Recently I went to a conference, I met some people from UEL there was considering a collaboration but decided to stay away from anything to do with UEL on advice from my dean due to this issue which i was recently made aware of. What a shame for the hardworking staff and students at UEL. At the end of the day Ahluwalia has been proven guilty twice of fraud. Even if Ahluwalia is shown to not have committed fraud at UEL the fact remains that you will never be able to trust any of his data and it is unlikely that he will ever be awarded any major grant and any PhD student should stay far away from him and anybody associated with him. Anybody who is still collaborating with him such as Mike Salmon is guilty by association and now has everything to lose.

  • ricard p July 6, 2011 at 5:22 pm

    Probably UEL management are playing a waiting game and waiting for Imperial to finish its investigation and revoke his PhD or not. Then UEL can legitimately throw him out. At present it may be difficult to prove his work at UEL fraudulent given that he is the group leader and has learnt to cover his tracks well. Unless there is a clear case UEL may find itself subject to an unfair dismissal charge by Ahluwalia.

  • littlegreyrabbit September 20, 2012 at 3:25 am

    So out of curiosity, following on from Augen Auf or Auger Nauf (who I hope is not some naughty post-doc from the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine), is the 2002 paper of Anthony Segal considered repeatable or not?
    Nature. 2002 Mar 21;416(6878):291-7.
    Killing activity of neutrophils is mediated through activation of proteases by K+ flux.

    According to the hitherto accepted view, neutrophils kill ingested microorganisms by subjecting them to high concentrations of highly toxic reactive oxygen species (ROS) and bringing about myeloperoxidase-catalysed halogenation. We show here that this simple scheme, which for many years has served as a satisfactory working hypothesis, is inadequate. We find that mice made deficient in neutrophil-granule proteases but normal in respect of superoxide production and iodinating capacity, are unable to resist staphylococcal and candidal infections. We also show that activation provokes the influx of an enormous concentration of ROS into the endocytic vacuole. The resulting accumulation of anionic charge is compensated for by a surge of K+ ions that cross the membrane in a pH-dependent manner. The consequent rise in ionic strength engenders the release of cationic granule proteins, including elastase and cathepsin G, from the anionic sulphated proteoglycan matrix. We show that it is the proteases, thus activated, that are primarily responsible for the destruction of the bacteria.

    All Ahluwalia did was (helpfully I would have thought) provide a mechanistic basis for this K+ surge. If there is a K+ surge (the alternate explanation to movement of H+), then it presumably passes through some ion channel or other. Is there still considered to be a K+ surge activating proteases 10 years later or not?

    Is this still correct, or has “Science” self-corrected or has “Science” just got bored and drifted away in an unruffled manner?

    • Stuart January 29, 2013 at 8:25 am

      To answer this question you should read comments by de Coursey (easily found by following links in realted articles). I am an electrophysiologist and really struggle to see how anyone could have accepted the data in this paper (the one by Ahluwalia et al) at face value. I can see that he was obviously a skilled fraudster who was probably very persuasive and convincing, but at the end of the day there were many problems with many aspects of that work.

      For a start the K currents described in the paper are huge – as de Coursey points out this implies that the membrane potential must be held at a very negative value all the time. This simply does not square up with the results of earlier studies. Tony Segal has posted comments in this thread himself, and I can’t really be bothered to check his statements it does not matter if he is correct or not as the idea that was put forward in the Ahluwalia paper has now been totally discredited. From my reading of this I feel that De Coursey is simply a far more able scientist who has a much deeper understanding of ionic currents and how they influence cells. This allowed him to see the problems in the hypothesis straight away.

      One of my favorite sections of 1984 is where Winston Smith is contemplating the nature of his job, which is to retrospectively edit newspaper articles so that archived records of the past always correspond with what happens in the future.

      He thinks to himself how he is not really lying, he is merely substituting one piece of nonsense for another.

      I think that the work which went into the Ahluwalia paper falls into this category….the whole idea was nonsensical and the fact that the data were fabricated doesn’t change that.

      • fernando pessoa January 29, 2013 at 9:02 am

        In reply to Stuart January 29, 2013 at 8:25 am

        I like your straightforward approach rather than speculating on nonsense.

        From my reading publications by AW Segal contain scientific irregularities which pre-date Ahluwalia.

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