Wash U scientist admits to research misconduct, resigns post

A Washington University researcher has admitted to committing research misconduct in research involving eight U.S. government grants, according to a Federal watchdog, and resigned his position, according to the university.

Srikanth Santhanam, a staff scientist in the department of internal medicine’s division of gastroenterology at Washington University in St. Louis, “voluntarily admitted to engaging in research misconduct,” vice chancellor for research Jennifer Lodge told Retraction Watch. Santhanam resigned effective December 1, 2018, Lodge said.

Yesterday, the U.S. Office of Research Integrity (ORI) announced its findings in the case, saying that Santhanam had “cooperated fully with [Washington University] and ORI and has expressed remorse for his actions.” Santhanam agreed to two years of supervision for any Federally funded research, according to the ORI.

ORI has not released details of Santhanam’s misconduct, but its announcement referred to an upcoming Federal Register notice.

Santhanam was at one point a postdoc in Matthew Ciorba’s Washington University lab.

Update, 2030 UTC, 1/16/19: Although the Federal Register notice has yet to appear — due to the U.S. Federal government shutdown — the ORI has updated its announcement with the following details. In a nutshell, the misconduct was image manipulation, but was caught before publication:

ORI found that Respondent engaged in research misconduct by falsifying data that were included in a manuscript and a revision submitted to Cancer Research, entitled “IDO1 and kynurenine pathway metabolites activate PI3K-Akt signaling in the neoplastic colon epithelium to promote cancer cell proliferation and inhibit apoptosis.”

ORI found that Respondent intentionally, knowingly, and/or recklessly falsely labeled figures in both the original submission and the revised submission of the manuscript. Specifically, Respondent falsely reported:

  • in Figure 2A and resubmission Figure 3A, that the cytoplasmic and nuclear fraction bands for kynurenine (Kyn) and quinolinic acid (QA) and the nuclear fraction bands for β-Catenin were from a single experiment when they were from unrelated experiments
  • in resubmission Figures 4A, 8A, and 8B, the descriptions of Western blot analyses, which he labeled as showing the effect of Kyn and QA on HCT116 cells (Figure 4A), mouse AOM/DSS tumor organoids (Figure 8A) and human FAP tumor organoids (Figure 8B, pPRAS40 only), when in fact he used HT29 cells for each test
  • in resubmission Figure 4B, that bands labeled as representing pAKT S473 were actually PRAS40
  • in Figure S2C, resubmission Figure 3C, and resubmission Figure S3A, that bands labeled as representing total AKT actually came from an unknown source
  • in resubmission Figure 7B, that the bands labeled as representing staurosporine-induced apoptosis were actually the same protein samples used to show TNF-α induced apoptosis in Figure 7A
  • in resubmission Figures 3A, 3B, and 4A, that the cell lines used were between 3 and 10 passages old, when in fact they were passaged more than 10 times

As a result of the admission, the corresponding author contacted the journal immediately; the manuscript was not reviewed.

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