Terry S. Elton, a researcher at Ohio State University in Columbus who studies genetic expression in various heart conditions and Down syndrome, has been sanctioned by the U.S. Office of Research Integrity for fabricating and/or falsifying data in a number of NIH grants and resulting papers.
According to an OSU statement sent to Retraction Watch last night, it was an anonymous whistleblower who alerted the university to the potential misconduct in July 2010. The ORI report notes that he two OSU investigations, along with the ORI investigation, found that Elton:
falsified and/or fabricated Western blots in an NIH grant application in three submissions of the same grant application:
- Figures 4, 7, 11C: 1 R21 HD058997-01
- Figures 7B, 7E, 8B: 1 R21 HD058997-01A1
- Figures 3C, 3F, 6C: 1 R21 HD058997-01A2
and false Western blots were also included in Figure 6 in grant application 1 RC1 HL100298-01.
falsified and/or fabricated Western blots in eighteen (18) figures and in six (6) published papers. Specifically false and/or fabricated images were included in:
- Figures 2C, 2D, 2F, 3C, 3E, 4G, 5C, 5F: J Biol Chem 285(2):1529-43, 2010 Jan 8
- Figures 3B, 3C, 3F, 3H, 3I, 3J: Biochem Biophys Res Commun 370(3):473-7, 2008 Jun 6
- Figures 2, 3, 4B, 5B, 6, 7B, 8A, 9B: Am. J. Physiol. Lung Cell. Mol. Physiol. 293(3):L790-9, 2007 Sept
- Figure 6: J Biol Chem 282(33):24262-9, 2007 Aug 17
- Figure 6: Mol Cell Endocrinol 249(1-2):21-31, 2006 Apr 25
- Figures 5, 6B, 7B, 9B: Biochim. Biophys. Acta 1680(3):158-70, 2004 Nov 5.
The 3-year sanctions, with which Elton voluntarily agreed, include:
(1) to exclude himself from any contracting or subcontracting with any agency of the United States Government and from eligibility or involvement in nonprocurement programs of the United States Government referred to as “covered transactions” pursuant to HHS’ Implementation (2 C.F.R. Part 376 et seq) of OMB Guidelines to Agencies on Govermentwide Debarment and Suspension, 2 C.F.R. Part 1805 (collectively the “Debarment Regulations”) for a period of three (3) years, beginning on November 26, 2012;
(2) to exclude himself voluntarily from serving in any advisory capacity to PHS including, but not limited to, service on any PHS advisory committee, board, and/or peer review committee, or as a consultant for a period of three (3) years, beginning on November 26, 2012
The Columbus Dispatch was first to report the news.
OSU has also imposed sanctions, according to their statement:
Dr. Elton has received a written reprimand; will be required to participate in mandatory counseling on research misconduct and complete formal training on research ethics; and he is prohibited from supervising or serving as a primary advisor to any undergraduate or graduate students, postdoctoral trainees, or laboratory technicians for three years. In addition, all manuscripts and grant applications that Dr. Elton participates in will be reviewed and approved by university officials prior to submission for a period of five years.
Ohio State University takes allegations of research misconduct seriously and will continue to work diligently to protect the integrity of research produced by members of the university community.
Elton is a reasonably well-cited researcher, with 13 papers cited more than 100 times, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge.
OSU recommended that six papers be retracted. One, “TGFß1 stimulates human AT1 receptor expression in lung fibroblasts by cross talk between the Smad, p38 MAPK, JNK, and PI3K signaling pathways,” published in 2007 in the American Journal of Physiology: Lung Cellular and Molecular Physiology, already has been:
This article is being retracted by the American Physiological Society at the request of the Corresponding Author and with the approval of the coauthors because it contains improperly prepared data in Figs. 2A, 3B, and 4B that are unreliable. The authors apologize to the readers for this error and for any inconvenience associated with the publication of the article.
That paper, retracted in April of this year, has been cited 36 times, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge.
The other papers, which the ORI agreed should be retracted:
- Kuhn, D.E., Nuovo, G.J., Terry, A.V. Jr., Martin, M.M., Malana, G.E., Sansom, S.E., Pleister, A.P., Beck, W.D., Head, E., Feldman, D.S., & Elton, T.S. “Chromosome 21-derived microRNAs provide an etiological basis for aberrant protein expression in human Down syndrome brains.” J Biol Chem 285(2):1529-43, 2010 Jan 8. (cited 34 times)
- Kuhn, D.E., Nuovo, G.J., Martin, M.M., Malana, G.E., Pleister, A.P., Jiang, J., Schmittgen, T.D., Terry, A.V. Jr., Gardiner, K., Head, E., Feldman, D.S., & Elton, T.S. “Human chromosome 21-derived miRNAs are overexpressed in Down syndrome brains and hearts.” Biochem Biophys Res Commun 370(3):473-7, 2008 Jun 6. (cited 74 times)
- Martin, M.M., Buckenberger, J.A., Jiang, J., Malana, G.E., Nuovo, G.J., Chotani, M., Feldman, D.S., Schmittgen, T.D., & Elton, T.S. “The human angiotensin II type 13 receptor +1166 A/C polymorphism attenuates microRNA-155 binding.” J Biol Chem 282(33):24262-9, 2007, Aug 17. (cited 138 times)
- Martin, M.M., Buckenberger, J.A., Knoell, D.L., Strauch, A.R., & Elton, T.S. “TGFbeta(1) regulation of human AT1 receptor mRNA splice variants harboring exon 2.” Mol Cell Endocrinol 249(1-2):21-31, 2006 Apr 25. (cited 6 times)
- Duffy, A.A., Martin, M.M., & Elton, T.S. “Transcriptional regulation of the AT1 receptor gene in immortalized human trophoblast cells.” Biochim. Biophys. Acta. 1680(3):158-70, 2004 Nov 5. (cited 11 times)
Hat tip: Earle Holland