ORI sanctions Oregon eye stem cell researcher for faking data in grant applications
Peter Francis, a former Oregon Health Sciences University (OHSU) eye researcher, has been sanctioned by the U.S. Office of Research Integrity (ORI) for claiming, in grant applications, to have performed experiments that he hadn’t actually done.
According to ORI’s case summary, Francis
engaged in research misconduct in research reported in two grant applications, R01 EY021214-01 and resubmitted as R01 EY021214-01A1, that he submitted to the National Eye Institute (NEI), National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Specifically, ORI finds that the Respondent fabricated results of a pilot experiment in which he claimed to have injected retinal pigment epithelial (RPE) cells obtained from Rhesus monkey embryonic stem cells (ECS) into a strain of rats (RCS) that develops retinal degeneration.
Respondent claimed that after the injection of ECS-derived RPE cells 21 days postnatal, the rats were tested at day 60 postnatal for optomotor acuity, and that the retinal histology of eyes receiving ECS-derived RPE cells, compared to mock-injected controls, showed enhanced photoreceptor preservation and no adverse effects. Respondent admitted that this experiment had not been conducted either by the time the original grant application had been submitted or by the time the later R01 EY021214-01A1 application was submitted.
For two years, Francis will need to have his research supervised, and “any institution employing him shall provide assurance that each application for PHS funds, or report, manuscript, or abstract involving PHS supported research in which Respondent was involved was based on actual experiments or was otherwise legitimately derived.” He also can’t serve on any NIH peer review or other committees during that time.
He was at Oregon Health Sciences University’s Casey Eye Institute at the time he submitted the fraudulent grant applications, but decided to leave OHSU at the conclusion of the investigation, a university spokesperson tells Retraction Watch.
There are no retractions involved, because there haven’t been any papers, but Francis is reasonably well-published, including in JAMA. He has also worked with Advanced Cell Technologies on stem cell treatments for retinal disease, but an ACT spokesperson tells us:
Peter Francis was not involved in any meaningful way with the work/research related to ACT.
Update, 1 p.m. Eastern, 4/16/12: OHSU sent us the following statement, noting that the work in Francis’ lab will continue:
OHSU takes research integrity matters very seriously. When questions were raised about one of Dr. Francis’ research projects, he was immediately placed on leave. An investigation took place by our Scientific Integrity Committee and the results were reported to the Office of Research Integrity of the National Institutes of Health. At the conclusion of the investigation, Dr. Francis decided to leave the university.
As you likely aware, personnel issues are confidential for the sake of staff privacy so we cannot provide further information about Dr. Francis’ decision to leave OHSU. However, we can confirm the information that was published in the Federal Register:
- That Dr. Francis was found to have engaged in research misconduct in two grant applications that were submitted for funding
- That he fabricated results of a pilot experiment cited in those grant applications
- That Dr. Francis has entered into a Voluntary Settlement Agreement with the Department of Health and Human Services to have his research supervised for a 2-year period under specific guidelines.
- That Dr. Francis is also excluded from serving as a Public Health Service advisor for a period of two years
The importance of the ongoing research previously conducted in the Francis Lab at OHSU has been recognized by the National Institutes of Health, which approved the appointment of new Principal Investigators at OHSU to continue the work.
OHSU has several mechanisms in place to rapidly respond when concerns about research are raised. These measures include methods for reporting concerns by staff and colleagues and continuous oversight by our research integrity office. This is a case where those systems worked well and we were able to respond appropriately.