HIV postdoc faked data in published paper, 2 grants

Julia_B
Julia Bitzegeio

An HIV researcher has admitted to faking data in a published paper, a manuscript, and two grant applications, according to a notice released today by the the Office of Research Integrity (ORI).

Former postdoc Julia Bitzegeio faked data in a 2013 paper, published in the Journal of Virology, about how HIV adapts to interferon. In the paper, “the manipulation was really minor,” Theodora Hatziioannouprincipal investigator of the lab at the Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center (ADARC) in New York City where Bitzegeio worked, told Retraction Watch. “She just made cosmetic changes.”

The paper will be corrected, Hatziioannou said. Bitzegeio has left her lab, and her future is somewhat less clear:

I think she was not going to continue in science anymore, but I cannot be certain.

The Journal of Virology paper, “Adaptation to the Interferon-Induced Antiviral State by Human and Simian Immunodeficiency Viruses,” has been cited 15 times, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge.

As a co-author, Bitzegeio also published in Nature and in Science. Hatziioannou told us:

We have been through the raw data that she generated for those papers, they are intact.

Here’s the full list of Bitzegeio’s actions, according to the ORI report:

ORI found that Respondent engaged in research misconduct by falsifying and/or fabricating data that were included in one (1) publication, two (2) unfunded grant applications, and one (1) unpublished manuscript:

Journal of Virology 87:3549-3560, 2013 (hereafter referred to as “JVI 2013”)

  • R01 AI114367-01A1
  • R01 AI120787-01
  • “A single amino acid in the CD4 binding site of HIV-1 Env is a key determinant of species tropism.” Unpublished manuscript.

Here are the specifics of the faulty data:

1.  Respondent falsified and/or fabricated in vitro rates of viral replication or infection in human and macaque lymphocytes and infectious titers on reporter cells, for multiple strains of SIV based chimeric viruses such that the results were not accurately represented in:

  • Figure 7 in JVI 2013
  • Figures 6B and 8C in R01 AI114367-01A1
  • Figures 1, 2B, and 3B in R01 AI120787-01
  • Figures 1A-D, 2D, 3D, 5A-C, 5I, 6C, and S3D in the unpublished manuscript

2. Respondent falsified and/or fabricated in vitro binding data of SIV based chimeric viruses to human or macaque CD4 such that the results were not accurately represented in:

  • Figure 6 in R01 AI120787-01
  • Figures 5D-F in the unpublished manuscript

It was one of the unpublished manuscripts that raised suspicions this spring, said Hatziioannou:

I started finding inconsistencies between that and what Dr. Bitzegeio  had been presenting to me. She admitted that she had been manipulating data on the unpublished manuscript. We immediately informed the Aaron Diamond. They put together a committee. I helped them go through all the data that she had produced. She admitted to additional instances. We spent about a month going through data. It was extremely hard work.

Bitzegeio did perform all the experiments she said she did, said Hatziioannou:

I wouldn’t call it fabrication. It’s more manipulation.

The episode had major effects on the lab, added Hatziioannou:

It is quite devastating for the lab when they discover one of their [lab members] doing this. It’s really extremely painful. And really hard to deal with.

Bitzegeio has agreed to have any federally funded research supervised for three years. We contacted her for comment, and will update with anything we learn.

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3 thoughts on “HIV postdoc faked data in published paper, 2 grants”

  1. Re: These comments by the PI:

    In the paper, “the manipulation was really minor,” Theodora Hatziioannou, principal investigator of the lab at the Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center (ADARC) in New York City where Bitzegeio worked, told Retraction Watch. “She just made cosmetic changes.”

    and

    “I wouldn’t call it fabrication. It’s more manipulation.”

    Altering the primary data to render them “cleaner” or more presentable IS a type of fabrication – it’s a means of creating (fabricating) an experimental result that wouldn’t exist if not for the manipulation. All in all, a very sad story.

  2. Respondent falsified and/or fabricated in vitro rates of viral replication or infection in human and macaque lymphocytes and infectious titers on reporter cells, for multiple strains of SIV based chimeric viruses such that the results were not accurately represented

    Hardly minor or cosmetic

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