Misconduct earns researcher a five-year ban on federal funding

ori logoUniversity of Minnesota former chemistry graduate student has been banned from receiving federal funding for five years based on “a preponderance of the evidence that the Respondent intentionally and knowingly engaged in research misconduct.”

Venkata J. Reddy appears to have manipulated findings in one R01 grant application. In recent years, bans are less common than having research supervised. What’s also unusual is that the sanction appeared to have begun two years ago, in 2013, because it lifts August 26, 2018. The report, which is scheduled to published tomorrow in the Federal Register, says the debarment has a “joint jurisdiction,” suggesting another agency may be involved. [See first update at end of post.]

According to the ORI notice, Reddy “intentionally and knowingly engaged in research misconduct by falsifying and/or fabricating data that was provided to his mentor” for an R01 application to the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS). More specifically:

ORI found that the Respondent falsified data included in Figures 4, 9, 11, 15, and 25 in R01 GM095559-01A1 for enantiomeric excess (“ee”) to falsely show a high degree of selectivity for one enantiomer over another by a cut-and-paste method and manipulation of the instrument to give the desired result. Respondent also falsified the underlying nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy (NMR) data for Compound 22 reported in Figure 15 in R01 GM095559-01A1 by a cut-and-paste method to manipulate the NMR spectra and give the desired result.

The grant, submitted by Christopher Douglas at UMN and awarded in 2011, explored new approaches to synthesizing alkaloids. Douglas received roughly $250,000 from it in 2011, 2012, and 2013.

The UMN directory lists Reddy as a graduate student who enrolled in 2011. Reddy appears to have published a few papers with Douglas, in the College department of chemistry.

In 2014, former ORI director David Wright resigned in frustration; the agency is currently run by acting director Don Wright, and is hiring a new head.

We’ve contacted UMN and the ORI. We’ve also emailed UMN addresses for Reddy and Douglas, and will update if we hear anything.

Update, 3:45 p.m. Eastern, 4/30/15: We’ve learned that the other agency to bar Reddy was the National Science Foundation.

Update, 7:44 p.m. Eastern, 4/30/15: We heard from Chris Douglas, who clarified that Reddy’s directory listing at UMN showed when he left the school (2011); he enrolled in 2007. He also provided more details about the case:

Though the events are several years old, it still feels raw.

Mr. Reddy was a graduate student in my lab and we published four papers that included him as a coauthor.  While working with Mr. Reddy, I became concerned in early 2011 about unpublished data he generated on a reaction we were studying, alkene cyanoamindation.  I informed the authorities here at Minnesota and an investigation began.  While I cannot provide specific information about the outcome of the investigation due to student privacy laws, I refer you to the public statement of ORI for conclusions about Mr. Reddy’s research conduct.  After consulting with our research integrity officer and reproducing some of Mr. Reddy’s experiments, I moved to retract the two manuscripts that were affected.  The retraction notices are Tetrahedron 201167, 5360 and Organic Letters201113, 3288.

Also at that time, I withdrew my funding application that included Mr. Reddy’s results from consideration at NSF.  The application was geared toward studying the high enantiomeric excess reported by Mr. Reddy. I also informed my program officer at NIH about the situation, prior to their decision on the application.  In this case, the enantiomeric excess data supplied by Mr. Reddy had less of an impact on my proposal to synthesize alkaloids.  This is because after my students and I reproduced Mr. Reddy’s experiments, we did obtain the product of alkene cyanoamidation that appeared in the funding application, but with lower degrees of enantiomeric excess.

I regret that I did not identify the data irregularities prior to publication or the submission of funding applications.

Update 12:03 p.m. 5/1/15: A spokesperson for the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health, which oversees the ORI, confirmed that the debarment was the result of an NSF investigation, and began two years ago because of the timing at that agency:

The debarment was based on the NSF findings and the completion of the case at NSF.  Because ORI’s processes are different, we completed our case oversight review after the debarment was already imposed…ORI’s actions coincide with the debarment, the debarment ends 8/26/2018, and that is when ORI’s actions will end.

She added that she cannot say whether the grant in question will continue to be funded, since the ORI has no authority over conditions of grant funding.

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One thought on “Misconduct earns researcher a five-year ban on federal funding”

  1. While this debarment in a case involving two federal agencies is “unusual,” as noted by RW, it is not unique. We had at least three cases in ORI in the 2000’s where the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the HHS Office of Research Integrity (ORI) worked jointly or sequentially on a case that involved both NSF and HHS (NIH) funding. One or both agencies then posted administrative actions (sanctions).

    For example, NSF debarred, and ORI imposed additional actions separately, against: a Dartmouth College postdoctoral fellow in 2007 (http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2007-08-14/pdf/E7-15881.pdf); a UCLA graduate student in 2006 (http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/2006/pdf/E6-2234.pdf); and a Boyce Thompson Institute postdoctoral fellow in 2005 (http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2005-06-03/pdf/05-11017.pdf).

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