ORI: Ex-grad student “falsified and/or fabricated” data in PNAS submission

A former graduate student falsified or fabricated data in a manuscript submitted to the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, according to the Office of Research Integrity at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

In a finding released Dec. 8, ORI said that Matthew Endo, a former graduate student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, “intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly” caused false data to be recorded, and “falsified and/or fabricated data and related images” by altering, reusing, or relabeling them.

Endo has agreed to a settlement, effective Nov. 16, which requires him to work under supervision for three years on projects supported by the U.S. Public Health Service, among other conditions.

The manuscript entitled “Amphotericin primarily kills human cells by binding and extracting cholesterol” was submitted to PNAS, but withdrawn prior to peer review.

Specifically, ORI found that Endo used tactics to make results look better than they actually were, such as altering a laboratory test result to make a drug preparation “appear more pure than in the actual results of experimentation,” and lying about the number of times he’d run an experiment.  As an example:

In Manuscript 1, Respondent caused falsified and/or fabricated results to be recorded by knowingly requesting biological testing of a mixture of compounds that he falsely claimed to be a single compound…

The notice did not indicate when these infractions took place, nor when they were discovered. ORI noted the finding was based on: 

Respondent’s admission, an assessment conducted by University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), and analysis conducted by ORI in its oversight review …

Endo, who started as a graduate student in 2009, is no longer at Illinois. According to his LinkedIn page, he left in July 2016 with a master’s degree and is now a laboratory manager/operations specialist at the California Institute of Technology (working in the lab of Alison Ondrus), and is pursuing a law degree in the evenings. [See update below.] Endo did not immediately respond to our request for comment.

Endo was co-author of a 2012 paper published in PNAS with a similar title, “Amphotericin primarily kills yeast by simply binding ergosterol.” The paper has been cited 165 times, according to Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science. According to a press release from the University of Illinois, that paper challenged the accepted mechanism of action for amphotericin, an effective antifungal drug with extensive side effects.

Endo committed misconduct while working on research supported by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, according to the ORI. The principal investigator for that grant, titled “Synthesis and study of amphotericin B derivatives,” is Illinois professor Martin Burke, the corresponding author on the 2012 PNAS paper. When we called Burke to ask about the case, he told us:

There is nothing to retract because the paper was never published.

He declined to answer any questions and referred us to Melanie Loots, Chief of Staff for the Vice Chancellor of Research.

Loots told us:

All of the available information on this issue is in the ORI release.

Update, 1730 UTC, 12/13/17: Kathy Svitil, Director of Research Communications at Caltech, told us Endo no longer works in the Ondrus lab. She declined to say when he left, or under what circumstances he left.

Like Retraction Watch? Consider making a tax-deductible contribution to support our growth. You can also follow us on Twitter, like us on Facebook, add us to your RSS reader, sign up on our homepage for an email every time there’s a new post, or subscribe to our daily digest. Click here to review our Comments Policy. For a sneak peek at what we’re working on, click here. If you have comments or feedback, you can reach us at retractionwatchteam@gmail.com.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.