A former researcher at the University of Michigan and the University of Chicago faked dozens of experiments and images over the course of six years, according to a new finding from the Office of Research Integrity (ORI).
Ricky Malhotra, who studied heart cells, admitted to committing misconduct at both institutions, the ORI said in its report of the case. The fakery involved three National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant applications, one NIH progress report, one paper, seven presentations, and one image file. Despite an investigation at the University of Michigan, where Malhotra was from 2005-2006, he continued this falsification at [University of Chicago], after the [University of Michigan] research misconduct investigation was completed,” according to the ORI. The agency found that he
reused and falsely relabeled Western blot gel images, falsified the related densitometry measurements based on the falsified Western blots, and falsified and/or fabricated data for experiments that were not performed.
All told, Malhotra claimed to have conducted 74 experiments that never happened, and falsified well over 100 Western blots. Some of those figures made it into a 2010 paper in the Journal of Biological Chemistry (JBC), “Gαq-mediated Activation of GRK2 by Mechanical Stretch in Cardiac Myocytes,” which the ORI said he had agreed to retract. The paper has been cited 23 times, according to Thomson Reuters Web of Science.
Malhotra, who retracted another JBC paper last year for unclear reasons, told the ORI “he had no intention in applying for or engaging in U.S. Public Health Service (PHS)-supported research or otherwise working with PHS,” the parent agency of the NIH. According to his LinkedIn profile, until this month Malhotra was at PicoCal, which makes “micro-cantilevers for atomic force microscopy, scanning probe microscopy, manufacturing, chemical sensing, and biological sensing.”
If Malhotra does apply for any Federal grants in the next five years, his work will require supervision, and a
report and certification to ORI at six (6) month intervals that the data provided by Respondent are based on actual experiments or are otherwise legitimately derived and that the data, procedures, and methodology are accurately reported in the application, report, manuscript, or abstract.
Malhotra was not the principal investigator on either of the awarded grants named in the ORI report, according to NIH RePORTER. One of the grants was for $130,000 per year during 2007, 2008, and 2009, while he was at the University of Chicago, while the other was for $390,000 in 2011, his last year at the institution.
This is the third finding announced by the ORI in the month of May. Before these three cases, the agency, which usually sanctions about a dozen researchers per year, had not announced any findings since December of last year.
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 new daily digest. Click here to review our Comments Policy. For a sneak peek at what we’re working on, click here.