UConn resveratrol researcher Dipak Das fingered in sweeping misconduct case
The University of Connecticut, in what clearly seems like an attempt to get ahead of damaging news, has announced an “extensive” investigation into research misconduct involving one of its scientists, Dipak K. Das.
According to a press release, the university has notified 11 journals that published Das’ work about the alleged fraud. One area of interest for Das, a government-funded professor of surgery and director of the Cardiovascular Research Center, has been resveratrol, a substance in red wine that has allegedly been linked to improved cardiac health.
The university touted some of his early efforts in this field.
[Please also see our update posted Thursday.]
Here’s what the release has to say:
An extensive research misconduct investigation has led the University of Connecticut Health Center to send letters of notification to 11 scientific journals that had published studies conducted by a member of its faculty. Dipak K. Das, Ph.D., a professor in the Department of Surgery and director of the Cardiovascular Research Center, was at the center of a far reaching, three-year investigation process that examined more than seven years of activity in Das’ lab.
“We have a responsibility to correct the scientific record and inform peer researchers across the country,” said Philip Austin, interim vice president for health affairs.
The investigation was sparked by an anonymous allegation of research irregularities in 2008. The comprehensive report, which totals approximately 60,000 pages, concludes that Das is guilty of 145 counts of fabrication and falsification of data. Inquiries are currently underway involving former members of Das’ lab; no findings have been issued to date.
As a result of the investigation the Health Center has frozen all externally funded research in Das’ laboratory and declined to accept $890,000 in federal grants awarded to him. Dismissal proceedings, in accordance with the university’s bylaws, are currently underway.
The UConn Health Center worked closely with the U.S. Office of Research Integrity (ORI) throughout its internal investigation. Following protocol, the Health Center has sent its complete report to the ORI which is now conducting an independent investigation.
“While we are deeply disappointed by the flagrant disregard for the University’s Code of Conduct, we are pleased the oversight systems in place were effective and worked as intended,” Austin added. “We are grateful that an individual chose to do the right thing by alerting the appropriate authorities. Our findings were the result of an exhaustive investigation that, by its very nature, required considerable time to complete.”
“The abuses in one lab do not reflect the overall performance of the Health Center’s biomedical research enterprise which continues to pursue advances in treatments and cures with the utmost of integrity,” he added. “We demand full compliance with all research standards and policies by our faculty and staff.”
According to the release, the 11 journals where Das may have published fabricated data are:
American Journal of Physiology – Heart & Circulatory
Antioxidants & Redox Signaling
Cellular Physiology & Biochemistry
Free Radical Biology
Free Radical Research
Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry
Journal of Cellular & Molecular Medicine
Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry
Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics
Molecular & Cellular Cardiology
Molecular & Cellular Chemistry
The second title, Antioxidants & Redox Signaling, is noteworthy, as Das is one of the editors-in-chief. [See 11:30 p.m. update below]
He’s also He was an associate editor (no longer, according to editor William Stanley, see comment below) of the American Journal of Physiology: Heat and Circulatory Physiology, and consulting editor of Molecular & Cellular Chemistry. So, he obviously had a pipeline to those journals — although commenters dispute that would be the case.
Das’ work has been influential. Thirty of his papers have been cited more than 100 times, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge. One, in Toxicology, has been cited 349 times, while another, in Free Radical Biology, has been cited 230.
We’ll be posting more details on this case as we learn them.
Update, 12:00 Eastern, 1/11/12: Das appears to have had a relationship with a Las Vegas resveratrol maker called, unsurprisingly, Longevinex. The company has promoted his research, and Das also shows up in a lengthy video touting the nutrient as the next aspirin. The infomercial is guided by an “investigative reporter” named Gailon Totheroh, who is affiliated with the Christian Broadcasting Network.
But at least one resveratrol expert says the damage from the fraud on this particular area of research will be minimal. Nir Barzilai, of Albert Einstein College of Medicine, said he’d heard of Das but never met him. He noted that most of his admittedly vast list of publications seem to be in lower-impact factor journals, and that the field is strong:
There are many investigators who are working on resveratrol. That doesn’t mean we know the whole truth. But Rome wasn’t built on Dr. Das.
More: Turns out Das won the “Albrecht Fleckenstein Memorial Award for distinguished work in the field of Basic Research” last year from the International Association of Cardiology.
We also have learned that Das
helped found did work for a company, Dry Creek Nutrition, in Modesto, Calif., to commercialize a substance in grape skins called proanthocyanidin. Dry Creek received a U.S. patent in 2002 for a method of purifying the molecule.
Das has published numerous papers on proanthocyanidin, including articles in journals implicated in the U Conn inquiry. Among them are papers in Free Radical Research, Free Radical Biology and the Journal of Molecular & Cellular Cardiology.
Another update: The Chronicle of Higher Education’s Tom Bartlett covers the story, with comments from resveratrol booster David Sinclair. Bartlett also has links to a 49-page executive summary of the 60,000-page report, and to Das’ long and rambling’ response to investigators that accuses the university of discrimination and claims he suffered a stroke because of the stress.
Another update (8:30 p.m. Eastern, 1/11/12): Longevinex has sent us this response to a request for comment, which we’ve pasted here in its entirety:
INDEPENDENT RESEARCH CONFIRMS LONGEVINEX® WORKS SUPERIOR TO PLAIN RESVERATROL IN ANIMAL AND HUMAN STUDIES APART FROM PUBLISHED STUDIES WHICH HAVE NOW BEEN CALLED INTO QUESTION
LONGEVINEX® RESPONDS TO ALLEGATIONS OF SCIENTIFIC FRAUD BY RESVERATROL RESEARCHER
Las Veags, NV (Jan 11, 2012) – Bill Sardi, managing partner for Longevinex®, a resveratrol-based dietary supplement, says the product his company makes has passed independent scientific scrutiny in human studies conducted both in the USA and overseas and that the animal-lab researcher at the University of Connecticut who has conducted studies involving Longevinex® and whose work has now come under scientific scrutiny, has no business relationship with Longevinex®.
Sardi says, to his knowledge, criticism of Dr. Dipak Das’ work at the University of Connecticut primarily involves irregularities in a test called western blot analysis which would not alter the findings that Longevinex® has been proven to reduce the area of scar tissue following a heart attack in excised rodent hearts.
Actual photographs showing the amount of scarring following a heart attack provide incontrovertible evidence that both resveratrol and Longevinex® protect the rodent heart prior to a heart attack by activating protective molecules such as nitric oxide, adenosine and heme oxygenase prior to a heart attack, says Sardi.
“None of the allegations that I have briefly read in newspapers negate the pioneering work of Dr. Das, who first showed that resveratrol can turn a mortal heart attack in animals into a non-mortal event,” says Sardi. The implications of this discovery are profound given that aspirin has just recently been found to be ineffective in reducing the risk of a mortal heart attack in humans, adds Sardi.
The proposed health benefits involving Longevinex® have been corroborated by independent studies conducted by National Institutes of Health researchers as well as researchers in other centers in the USA and overseas, says Sardi. Links to these reports are provided herein. As early as 2008 resveratrol researchers confirmed that Longevinex® activates 9-fold more genes than plain reseveratrol in rodent hearts.
Sardi says his company has received reports that patients whose coronary arteries were 99% blocked by plaque experienced no chest pain or damage to their heart, evidence that Longevinex® was cardio-protecting the heart. Sardi says his company has received a report from a cardiologist that an 89-year old man taking Longevinex®, who was judged to be too frail to undergo invasive heart surgery and who had a completely blocked coronary artery, experienced no heart damage and circulation was restored over time on its own.
Normally the heart releases protective antioxidants following a heart attack, when blood circulation is restored to a coronary artery that provides the heart with oxygenated blood. But resveratrol, and more so Longevinex®, releases these protective molecules prior to any adverse event, such as a blockage in arteries supplying oxygen to the heart or brain, says Sardi.
“One has to be alerted to the possibility of a witch hunt here,” says Sardi, “since Dr. Das has made landmark contributions to the understanding of resveratrol and how it works. There are billions of dollars of drug sales that are threatened by resveratrol, which not only protects the heart prior to a heart attack, but thins the blood and prevent clots in coronary arteries, inhibits inflammation, controls cholesterol and dilates (widens) blood vessels to maintain normal blood pressure. Resveratrol and Longevinex® threaten to replace many problematic heart drugs which have not been demonstrated to reduce mortal heart attacks,” says Sardi.
Sardi says his company underwrites some of the costs of conducting studies by independent researchers by providing product for analysis and by underwriting of some of the costs involved in testing and that his company played no role in the design or outcomes of any of the published studies that have now been called into question. Dr. Das is not a paid consultant to Longevinex® says Sardi.
The news media chose to implicate Longevinex® in the allegations against Dr. Das without first contacting the company for a response, says Sardi. “Longevinex should not be considered guilty by association,” says Sardi.
Dr. Das is attending a scientific conference in India and has not been able to respond to the allegations.
Bill Sardi, managing partner of Resveratrol Partners LLC, doing business as Longevinex, sent us another message a few hours later:
We have now had opportunity to read the entire report by the University of Connecticut and find it particularly disturbing in its details and implications. As a company we do not wish to be associated with scientific research that does not meet the highest level of scientific standards. We stand with the University of Connecticut in its efforts to root out any scientific fraud.
Update, 11:30 p.m. Eastern, 1/11/12: Das has apparently been relieved of his duties as editor in chief of Antioxidants & Redox Signaling. Although we have yet to confirm a report of this by one of our commenters, his name has been removed from the masthead of that journal sometime today.
Update, 6:50 a.m. Eastern, 1/11/12: We received the following press release sent on Das’ behalf:
University Of Connecticut Researcher Accused of Scientific Misconduct Refutes All Charges, Claims Ethnic Bias By Reviewers And Irregularities In Report Alleging His Culpability In Scientific Fraud
January 12, 2012: An East Indian researcher accused of scientific misconduct by a University of Connecticut Health
Center review board claims all of the allegations against him can be “easily refuted” and that the charges against him involve prejudice within the university against Indian researchers. Six other East Indian researchers were also named as “potential respondents” to charges of scientific fraud, but no researchers of other ethnicities.
Scott Tips, a California-based attorney representing the accused, Dr. Dipak Das, calls into question the following irregularities in the University’s 600-page report which claims Dr. Das doctored images of tests conducted at his laboratory or instructed others to doctor them. Some of these irregularities include:
• The claim that only Dr. Das had access to his computer which was in his locked office. In fact, Dr. Das claims the chief informant in this case, whom the university does not reveal, also had a key to Dr. Das’ office. Dr. Das asserts his office was not private and “anyone could use it.”
• The university’s report stems from a paper published in a 2008 issue of Free Radical Biology & Medicine, a peer-reviewed journal. Why did the university choose to wait three years to publish these allegations that were refuted by Dr. Das over two years ago? No retraction of that published report was called for at that time.
• Dr. Das was blind-sided by the university, being completely unaware of the release of these allegations to the news press. Dr. Das had to be informed of the negative news reports by his colleagues. He was prevented from making a timely response to all of these charges. The news press reports Dr. Das did not return phone calls, which is pejorative, as he was away from his desk and was not monitoring his calls.
• The University of Connecticut report alleges Dr. Das “defunded” the work of a student in his lab because she did not produce results that he wanted. Investigation into this matter shows that Dr. Das “defunded” the work of this researcher from his budget because she was devoting all of her time to another researcher in the same laboratory, who turns out to be the informant or “whistle-blower” in this case, the very same person who also had a key to Dr. Das’ office.
• Another student researcher who worked in Dr. Das’ laboratory in 2008 discloses that the informant in this case was a trouble maker who chased away many other researchers by intentionally causing friction in Dr. Das’ lab. The former student says the university informant in this case even attempted to “pour wine down her mouth,” hoping to get her to reveal negative things about Dr. Das. The student says she did not witness any scientific irregularities in Dr. Das’ lab during her tenure there, which included Western Blot tests that were alleged to be doctored.
• Another party, a university internal investigator whom Dr. Das accuses of long-standing prejudice against foreign-born researchers, reportedly broke the lock on Dr. Das’ office door, removed computer files and personal items such as bank records and a passport, and could have manipulated data in his computer files. Dr. Das says this university investigator has had a long-standing vendetta against him going back to 1984.
• Dr. Das says he has not personally conducted laboratory bench tests for many years now and that his students and other subordinates conducted all the tests, including the allegedly doctored Western Blot tests. Even if doctored and inaccurate, these tests in no way invalidate the many health claims associated with resveratrol, a red wine molecule. Dr. Das says most of his work has been corroborated by other researchers including his important finding that resveratrol protects the heart against damage prior a heart attack.
• While the news media made quick association between Dr. Das and a particular brand of resveratrol pill he has tested, Dr. Das has no commercial relationship and does not serve as a paid consultant to any manufacturer of resveratrol pills. He served as an unpaid expert for an online interview of a particular brand of resveratrol, a pill that his laboratory found to be superior to plain resveratrol in laboratory studies. A spokesman for that company, Bill Sardi, managing partner for Resveratrol Partners LLC, dba Longevinex®, says his company has donated product to researchers including Dr. Das’ lab and has underwritten some of the expenses involved in conducting tests, but no researchers have received pay offs or have personally profited from their studies involving his product. Mr. Sardi says his company has not sought to influence the outcome of any independent or sponsored studies. Resveratrol Partners LLC is a private company based in Las Vegas, Nevada.