Target of $2M recruitment grant falsified several images: ORI

A former NIH postdoc recruited to a tenure-track position last year committed multiple acts of misconduct in two papers, according to the U.S. Office of Research Integrity.

According to the new notice, issued by the ORI, Colleen Skau altered results and multiple figures across the papers, published in Cell and PNAS.

The misconduct occurred while she was completing a postdoc in the Cell Biology and Physiology Center at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Last year, The Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) announced that Skau was among eight targets of a recruitment grant; the grant, totaling $2 million USD, was designed to help entice her to accept a tenure-track position at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. We’ve been unable to find a faculty page for Skau at UT Southwestern, and have contacted the university to determine whether she accepted a position there.

According to the ORI, Skau:

engaged in research misconduct by intentional, knowing, or reckless falsification and/or fabrication of the research record by selectively reporting by inappropriate inclusion/omission or alteration of data points in ten (10) figures and falsely reporting the statistical significance based on falsified data in ten (10) figures across the two (2) papers and supplementary material.

The infractions included using fabricated primary data, and selectively omitting or including data points. In addition:

ORI found that Respondent engaged in research misconduct by intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly falsely reporting a larger number of data points than actually were collected in fourteen (14) figures across the two (2) papers and supplementary materials.

For instance:

[Skau reported] to have measured two hundred fifty (250) Focal Adhesions per condition, when only fifty-six (56) measurements were recorded for the Leading Edge Adhesions (LEA) analysis

In addition:

ORI found that Respondent engaged in research misconduct by intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly fabricating results and/or falsely labelling experimental results that arose from alternate experimental conditions/experiments in seven (7) figures across the two (2) papers and supplementary materials.

The ORI notice lists multiple figures in both papers that included data “which did not originate from experimental observations.”

The two papers — a 2016 paper in Cell and a 2015 paper in PNAS — both list Clare Waterman as the last author. Waterman declined to comment, other than to say the episode:

…was very unfortunate and the retractions of both papers are imminent.

As part of the ORI agreement, Skau must have her research supervised for three years.

We’ve found a Colleen Skau listed as the manager of research programs at the American Urogynecologic Society.

Inverted formin 2 in focal adhesions promotes dorsal stress fiber and fibrillar adhesion formation to drive extracellular matrix assembly” has been cited 21 times since it was published in 2015, according to Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science. “FMN2 Makes Perinuclear Actin to Protect Nuclei during Confined Migration and Promote Metastasis” has been cited 22 times since 2016.

This is the first finding issued by the ORI this year; last year, it issued findings in only seven cases, a dramatic decrease from previous years.  The agency itself has faced a rocky year — in November, director Kathy Partin was temporarily removed from her post, following months of internal unrest.

Skau completed her PhD at the University of Chicago.

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