University of Minnesota swine flu researcher under investigation for alleged misconduct
In late December, we reported on the retraction of a 2010 research letter in Emerging Infectious Diseases looking at the genetics of swine flu.
The notice in the journal, a CDC publication, indicated that the conclusions were in error, although it didn’t really say much more:
To the Editor: We would like to retract the letter entitled “Triple Reassortant Swine Influenza A (H3N2) Virus in Waterfowl,” which was published the April 2010 issue of Emerging Infectious Diseases (1). The nucleoprotein gene sequences from the viruses reported in that letter are very closely related to those from the earliest detected triple reassortant swine influenza viruses [CY095676 A/sw/Texas/4199–2/1998(H3N2)]. Although these viruses could have acquired a swine-origin segment, the branch lengths are quite short for 9 years of evolution. Therefore, we have withdrawn these 4 isolates from GenBank and subsequently retract this letter.
As it happens, there was more to the story.
Officials at the University of Minnesota, where the work was conducted, have confirmed to us that the corresponding author of the letter, virologist Sagar M. Goyal, is being investigated for potential misconduct.
Justin Paquette, a spokesman for the school, tells us:
Someone within our University has filed an official concern citing potential misconduct and, as a result, the University has started the process by which they’ll assess the validity of those concerns to determine whether or not a formal misconduct review is warranted. The U of M obviously takes any such concerns seriously and wants to do all due diligence around the work in question.
Along those same lines, the University is conducting an assessment of related research to determine whether additional retractions may be necessary until we can assess what led to possible contamination, mislabeling or any other issue that led to the original retraction.
Our research review process began with Goyal who was the corresponding author, which you note. If through that process the University determines the work of any other researcher should be examined further, we’ll determine how best to expand the review. There were a few different folks who worked with the isolates in question and as you’ll recall, one of the potential issues cited by both the NIH research associate and external review of the work was lab contamination or mislabeling.
Should Goyal and/or anyone else be found to have committed misconduct with the study, it could spell trouble with a capital ORI. That’s because, as the paper states:
This work was funded in whole or in part with funds from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health, Department of Health and Human Services, under contract no. HHSN266200700007C.
We’ll keep you posted.