Former Johns Hopkins postdoc sanctioned by Feds for data fabrication

Johns Hopkins, via Flickr

A former postdoc at Johns Hopkins University has been hit by the U.S. Office of Research Integrity (ORI) with a four-year ban on receiving federal research funding after being found  guilty of misconduct in several studies and her doctoral dissertation. 

We covered problems with several of Deepti Malhotra’s papers in February of 2016. At the time, Hopkins refused to tell us if the issues stemmed from misconduct.  But nearly four years later, the ORI has announced that Deepti Malhotra, while at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health:

engaged in research misconduct by knowingly, intentionally, and/or recklessly falsifying and/or fabricating data included in the following four (4) published papers and her Ph.D. Thesis:

Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 2008;178(6):592-604 (hereafter referred to as “AJRCCM 2008”). Retracted in: Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 2016 Feb 1;193(3):344.

— Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 2009;180(12):1196-1207 (hereafter referred to as “AJRCCM 2009”). Retracted in: Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 2016 Feb 1;193(3):344.

J Clin Invest. 2011;121(11):4289-4302 (hereafter referred to as “JCI 2011”). Retracted in: J Clin Invest. 2014 Dec;124(12):5521.

PLoS Comput Biol. 2012;8(7):e1002597 (hereafter referred to as “PLoS Comput Biol. 2012”).

— Malhotra D. “Transcription Factor Nuclear Factor (Erythroid-Derived 2) Receptor 2 (Nrf2), A Master Regulator of Environmental Stress Response, Is A Modifier Of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).” A dissertation submitted to the Johns Hopkins University in conformity with the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy, August 2010 (hereafter referred to as the “Ph.D. Thesis”).

The research was part of a dozen different NIH grants. Evidently, Malhotra’s misdeed of choice was tinkering with Western blots. According to ORI, she: 

knowingly, intentionally, and/or recklessly falsified and/or fabricated Western blot data for protein expression in cultured cell lines and/or alveolar macrophages of patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) by trimming and manipulating Western blot images to disguise their origin or by reversing negative DNA gel images of the PCR product, reusing and relabeling them to represent Western blot data for unrelated experiments in seventeen (17) figures included in four (4) published papers and twelve (12) figures included in her Ph.D. Thesis. In the absence of original reliable image data, the quantitative data in associated plots, statistical analyses, and related text also are falsified and/or fabricated

The PLoS paper was corrected (though not retracted) in 2017. Per the notice: 

At the recommendation of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health following an internal review, this article is being corrected.

The following references cited within this article have been retracted:

17. Malhotra D, Thimmulappa R, Navas-Acien A, Sandford A, Elliott M, et al. (2008) Decline in NRF2-regulated antioxidants in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease lungs due to loss of its positive regulator, DJ-1. Am J Respir Crit Care Med 178: 592–604. 10.1164/rccm.200803-380OC.

19. Malhotra D, Thimmulappa R, Vij N, Navas-Acien A, Sussan T, et al. (2009) Heightened endoplasmic reticulum stress in the lungs of patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease: The role of Nrf2-regulated proteasomal activity. Am J Respir Crit Care Med 180: 1196–1207. 10.1164/rccm.200903-0324OC.

20. Malhotra D, Thimmulappa RK, Mercado N, Ito K, Kombairaju P, et al. (2011) Denitrosylation of HDAC2 by targeting Nrf2 restores glucocorticosteroid sensitivity in macrophages from COPD patients. J Clin Invest 121: 4289–4302. 10.1172/JCI45144.

Corrections to this article are as follows:

Fig 3 is incorrect because of errors made in the preparation of the images in panels B and C. The corrected figure and legend appear below.

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