The Office of Research Integrity’s findings are based on an inquiry at Virginia Commonwealth University, where Girija Dasmahapatra worked until July of this year, investigating possible therapies for cancer. The misconduct affected research funded by three grants from the National Institutes of Health. Steven Grant, a researcher at VCU, is the principal investigator on the grants, each of which total over $2 million in funding. All of the 11 affected papers will be corrected or retracted, according to the ORI notice.
Two of the papers containing “falsified and/or fabricated” data — a study on an experimental combination of drugs for blood cancer and one on chemotherapies for rare forms of lymphoma — were covered in press releases by VCU.
According to the notice in the Federal Register:
Based on the report of an inquiry conducted by Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU), the willingness of the Respondent to settle this matter, and analysis conducted by ORI in its oversight review, ORI found that Dr. Girija Dasmahapatra, former Instructor, Department of Internal Medicine, VCU, engaged in research misconduct in research supported by National Cancer Institute (NCI), National Institutes of Health (NIH), grants R01 CA063753, R01 CA093738, and R01 CA100866.
The affected papers are:
- “Synergistic interactions between MEK1/2 and histone deacetylase inhibitors in BCR/ABL plus human leukemia cells,” published in Leukemia, cited 61 times according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge
Flavopiridol and histone deacetylase inhibitors promote mitochondrial injury and cell death in human leukemia cells that overexpress Bcl-2, published in Molecular Pharmacology, cited 42 times
The tyrphostin adaphostin interacts synergistically with proteasome inhibitors to induce apoptosis in human leukemia cells through a reactive oxygen species (ROS)-dependent mechanism, published in Blood, cited 86 times
Synergistic interactions between vorinostat and sorafenib in chronic myelogenous leukemia cells involve mcl-1 and p21(CIP1) down-regulation, published in Clinical Cancer Research, cited 54 times
Bcl-2 antagonists interact synergistically with bortezomib in DLBCL cells in association with JNK activation and induction of ER stress, published in Cancer Biology & Therapy, cited 25 times
The Bruton tyrosine kinase (BTK) inhibitor PCI-32765 synergistically increases proteasome inhibitor activity in diffuse large-B cell lymphoma (DLBCL) and mantle cell lymphoma (MCL) cells sensitive or resistant to bortezomib, published in the British Journal of Haematology, cited 32 times
In Vitro and In Vivo Interactions between the HDAC6 Inhibitor Ricolinostat (ACY1215) and the Irreversible Proteasome Inhibitor Carfilzomib in Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma Cells, published in Molecular Cancer Therapeutics, cited twice
The notice includes some details about which aspects of the papers are problematic:
ORI found that Respondent falsified and/or fabricated data by reporting the results of Western blot experiments and mouse imaging experiments that examined interactions between multiple histone deacetylase and/or proteasome inhibitors in several cancer models. Specifically, Respondent duplicated, reused, and/or relabeled Western blot panels and mouse images and claimed they represented different controls and/or experimental results in:
-Blood 2006, Figures 2A and 2B (Tubulin), 2C (c-Jun & Tubulin), and 3E and 3F (Tubulin)
-Blood 2010, Figures 4A and 4C (JNK & Tubulin)
-BJH 2013, Figures 2A and 6B (Tubulin)
-CBT 2009, Figure 4B (Actin)
-CCR 2007, Figures 3B (PARP) and 6A (Tubulin)
-Leuk 2005, Figures 3B (PARP CF) and 4A, 4B, and 4C (Tubulin)
-LR 2006, Figure 3D (Actin – BaF/3-WT) 3
-MCT 2011, Figures 2B and 3D (Tubulin) and 6B (0 d – CFZ-2.0mg/Kg & 12 d – CFZ + VOR)
-MCT 2012, Figures 3A (JNK & Tubulin, 3B (Tubulin – scram), 3D (Tubulin – pUSE-AKT cl.3), and 6B (CFZ + obato)
-MCT 2014, Figures 3A (JNK 1 & Tubulin), 3B (JNK & Tubulin), and 3C (Tubulin)
-MP 2006, Figures 1D and 1E (Caspase 3, CF Caspase 3, PARP & Tubulin), 2C (PARP), 3B, 4A, and 4B (Tubulin), 6A (Tubulin – U937-pSFFv 12 hr treatment & U937-Bcl-2-ΔN 24 hr treatment), and 9A (Cox-IV)
Steven Grant declined to comment.
The flagged papers were published between 2005-2014; Pam Lepley, Vice President of University Relations at VCU, told us Dasmahapatra was working there until July, 2015:
As soon as we were made aware of potential irregularities in the manuscripts’ figures, per VCU policy, we launched an internal inquiry that led to an investigation. The federal Office of Research Integrity was notified, also per our policy, and assisted with the forensic analysis of many of the figures. In the course of the investigation, the former research instructor, Dr. Girija Dasmahapatra, admitted responsibility, which lead to a Voluntary Exclusion Agreement between him and the ORI. Dasmahapatra left the university in July of this year. The laboratory in which he worked has taken steps to prevent these kinds of errors from occurring again, and journals where the manuscripts were published are being contacted in order to take the necessary editorial actions.
As part of a voluntary agreement, according to the notice, Dasmahapatra will
exclude himself for a period of three (3) years from the effective date of the Agreement from any contracting or subcontracting with any agency of the United States Government…
Dasmahapatra’s LinkedIn page appears to be outdated — it still lists him as an instructor at VCU. We have found contact information for an instructor by the same name who works at a community college, but have not confirmed that this is the same researcher. We will update this post with anything else we learn.
Update 12/9/15 1:11 p.m. eastern: We asked VCU what sparked the inquiry, and the spokeswoman told us:
The VCU Office of Research Integrity and Ethics received an email in December 2014 from an anonymous source that alerted us to the matter, after which we launched an internal inquiry.
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