Cardiology researcher faked data in his prizewinning PhD thesis — and NIH, AHA grants: ORI
Nitin Aggarwal, formerly of the Medical College of Wisconsin, faked data in his PhD thesis, grant applications to the NIH and American Heart Association, and in two papers, according to new findings by the Office of Research Integrity.
(The case would have apparently first been published in the Federal Register on October 2, except for the government shutdown.)
Here were their findings:
…the Respondent engaged in research misconduct by falsifying and/or fabricating PHS-supported data in six (6) figures that were included in the following two (2) publications, one (1) grant application to the American Heart Association (AHA), one (1) grant application to NIH, and the Respondent’s Ph.D. thesis:
- Aggarwal, N.T., Pfister, S.L., & Campbell, W.B. “Hypercholesterolemia Enhances 15-Lipoxygenase Mediated Vasorelaxation and Acetylcholine-Induced Hypotension.” Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology 28:2209-2215, 2008 (hereafter the “ATVB paper”).
- Aggarwal, N.T., Pfister, S.L., Gauthier, K.M., Chawengsub, Y., Baker, J.E., & Campbell, W.B. “Chronic hypoxia enhances 15-lipoxygenase-mediated vasorelaxation in rabbit arteries.” American Journal of Physiology – Heart Circulation Physiology 296:H678-H688, 2008 (hereafter the “AJP paper”).
- Aggarwal, N.T., Principal Investigator (P.I.), National Scientist Development grant application to the American Heart Association No. 11SDG7650072, “Sulfonylurea rReceptor-2 splice variant and mitochondrial mechanisms for cardioprotection and arrhythmia” (hereafter the “AHA grant application”).
- K99 HL113518-01, “Mitochondrial ATP-sensitive K-channels and pharmacological approaches for cardioprotection,” Aggarwal, Nitin, Ph.D., P.I.
- Aggarwal, N.T. “Endothelial 15-lipoxygenase regulates vasorelaxation and blood pressure in rabbits in normal and pathological condictions.” A Dissertation Submitted to the Faculty of the Graduate School of Biomedical Science of the Medical College of Wisconsin in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 2008 (hereafter the “thesis”).
Specifically, ORI found that Respondent engaged in research misconduct by falsifying Western blot loading control data by inverting, duplicating, and cropping source blot films and/or using films from unrelated experiments to construct five (5) false Western blot figures. In the absence of valid blot images, Respondent falsified and/or fabricated the corresponding quantitative data for summary bar graphs and the data statistics in related text. Respondent admitted to falsely reporting the number of mice reported for an experiment reported in Figure 4 in grant application HL113518-01 to support the hypothesis of the research. The falsified and/or fabricated data are:
- false ß-actin data and statistics in Figures 1A and 1B in the AJP paper and Figures 41A and 41B in the thesis (p. 131) that purport to represent a time-course of 15-LO-1 protein expression in rabbit aortic endothelial cells (RAECs) following hypoxia
- false ß-actin and 15-LO-1 data and statistics in Figures 2A and 2B in the AJP paper and Figures 45A and 45B in the thesis (p. 135) that purport to represent 15-LO-1 expression in aortic rings of normoxic and hypoxic rabbits
- false ß-actin data and statistics in Figures 3A and 3B in the AJP paper and Figures 46A and 46B in the Respondent’s Ph.D. thesis (p. 137) that purport to represent 15-LO-1 expression in different arteries after hypoxia
- false ß-actin data and statistics in Figures 1A and 1B in the ATVB paper and Figures 26A and 26B in the thesis (p. 105) that purport to demonstrate changes in 15-LO-1 expression in different arteries of cholesterol-animals; the false ß-actin data in Figure 1A, ATVB was the same image as that used for Figure 1A, AJP but flipped vertically
- false GAPDH data and statistics in Figure 7 in the AHA grant application that purport to represent SUR2A-55 expression in murine heart following left ventricular hypertrophy (LVH)
- false reporting in Figure 4A of grant application HL113518-01 for the number of mice used for the physiological data for ATP-induced potassium influx in murine mitochondria as three to four, when only a single mouse was studied.
The Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology paper has been cited nine times, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge, while the American Journal of Physiology – Heart Circulation Physiology paper has been cited six times.
The relevant grants were R01 HL37981, R01 HL54075, and R01 HL57414. Aggarwal agreed to three years of required supervision on NIH grants, and that he wouldn’t serve on any NIH committees — such as peer review committees — for that period of time.
Aggarwal won a $1,000 award for his dissertation in 2009. According to his LinkedIn profile and a recent speaker announcement, he’s now working at Bristol Myers-Squibb. We’ve tried to reach BMS for comment, along with the Medical College of Wisconsin, and will update with anything we learn.
Update, 6 p.m. Eastern, 10/17/13: The Medical College of Wisconsin tells us they have no comment on the ORI’s findings.
Update, 10 a.m. Eastern, 10/18/13: BMS also tells us they have no comment.