Neuroscientist made up data in NIH grant applications, says ORI
Paul Muchowski, a neuroscience researcher at the Gladstone Institute of Neurological Disease in San Francisco, faked data in multiple grant applications, according to findings released today by the Office of Research Integrity (ORI).
In a funded NIH grant, R01 NS054753-06A1, and two submitted grant applications, R01 NS054753-06 and R01 NS047237-06, ORI says that Muchowski “knowingly and intentionally” committed “research misconduct by falsifying and fabricating data” as follows:
- falsely reported research experiments when the results did not exist at the time the grant applications were submitted. Specifically:
- in Figure 5 and the accompanying text of grant R01 NS054753-06A1, the Respondent described the insertion of toxic and inert mutant huntingtin (htt) fragments into maltose binding protein-Htt-Cerulean constructs with a nonpathogenic (25Q) or pathogenic (46Q) polyQ repeat, with and without Cerulean. The modified proteins were claimed to have been purified, when the constructs had not been made at the time the grant was submitted.
- in Figures 5 and 6 and the accompanying text of grant R01 NS054753-06A1, the Respondent claimed to have cloned toxic and inert mutant htt fragments into lentiviral constructs and generated lentiviruses, when the constructs were not made.
- in Figure 6 and related text in grant R01 NS054753-06A1, the Respondent claimed to have tested immunoblots of lysates from primary neurons with an antibody against mutant htt, which demonstrated that levels of htt expression in transduced cells were roughly equivalent to levels in normal neurons, when the experiment was not conducted.
- falsified Figure 3 of grant application R01 NS054753-06 by labeling the Western blot images for the expression of mutant htt in lentiviral-transduced primary neurons as ‘Cortex’ (left panel) and ‘Striatum’ (right panel), when the results were actually from the microglial cell lines N9 and BV2, respectively.
Muchowski agreed to have his research supervised for two years, and to not serve on any NIH committees — or any at the Public Health Service, the umbrella agency of the NIH — forthe same length of time.
The neuroscientist told Retraction Watch he had no comment, and that no papers would be retracted. His status at the Gladstone is unclear; while the ORI refers to him as a “former senior investigator,” he responded to an email sent to his Gladstone account but did not specify whether he was still employed there.
Muchowski is widely cited, with a dozen papers cited more than 100 times, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge. A profile in the San Francisco Chronicle earlier this year described how he and his father, a retired Roche scientist, were working together on a compound to treat Alzheimer’s and other degenerative diseases.
Update, 8:45 p.m. Eastern, 12/30/12: The Gladstone Institutes sent us this statement, noting that Muchowski resigned last month and that it was one of his colleagues who alerted the administration to what had happened:
Paul J. Muchowski, PhD, last month resigned his position as an investigator at the Gladstone Institutes, a biomedical-research nonprofit. Dr. Muchowski’s resignation followed a thorough investigation that found he committed scientific misconduct regarding grant applications to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). During the investigation, Dr. Muchowski admitted that he falsified or fabricated data for experiments he had not conducted at the time of grant submission.
This matter was reviewed in an intensive process that spanned several months, in accordance with Gladstone policy and federal requirements for NIH grantee organizations. First, it was reviewed by an internal committee and then by an investigative committee that included senior scientists from the University of California, San Francisco, with which Gladstone is affiliated. Both committees concluded that Dr. Muchowski’s falsification and fabrication of data in grant applications clearly departed from accepted practices in the research community and constituted scientific misconduct. Gladstone’s president and trustees agreed with the committees’ conclusions.
Gladstone recognizes Dr. Muchowski’s positive contributions to scientific research during his time at the Institutes. However, scientific misconduct has no place at Gladstone. In this case, Gladstone’s expectations and culture of scientific integrity led to reporting of the misconduct. All subsequent steps to investigate and take administrative actions were also faithful to Gladstone’s own policies and to the scientific community’s best practices.
“As individuals and as an institution, we at Gladstone stand for, and insist upon, the highest standards of integrity in all that we do—but human beings are fallible, and examples of misconduct are an unfortunate possibility in any organization or community,” commented Gladstone President R. Sanders Williams, MD. “We are saddened by this event, but heartened that our research culture encouraged a colleague of Dr. Muchowski to alert us to this matter. From that point, our established policies guided us through careful review to a resolution of this situation.”
Throughout the investigation, Gladstone has been in close communication with the Office of Research Integrity of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which on December 28, 2012, published its findings and ensuing sanctions online.
Please see an update on this post, with an apology and clarification from Muchowski.