University of Kentucky demotes cancer researcher following finding of misconduct by scientist in his lab

A misconduct scandal at the University of Kentucky has led to the demotion of a senior cancer researcher for his lack of oversight of a now-former scientist who fabricated data in at least four papers and two grant applications.  

According to the university, the inquiry began in April 2019, after the institution received complaints about suspect figures in six papers published by UK researchers. The lead on the articles was John D’Orazio, a clinician and researcher with appointments at the Markey Cancer Center and UK Healthcare. 

In November 2019, UK investigators turned their attention to Stuart Jarrett, a co-author on all six papers who had joined D’Orazio’s lab in 2012 but left in September 2019. 

According to the university: 

It was determined that Dr. Jarrett had committed research misconduct regarding data included in four papers and two grant proposals. In addition, it was found that an honest error had occurred on a fifth paper.

The report on the inquiry states that: 

The allegations and findings stem from figures and panels in articles being flipped, swapped for blank images and/or inappropriately manipulated, and a failure to maintain some original data from experiments. In one instance, the investigation committee concluded that three figures in one of the published manuscripts contained data that were intentionally fabricated and falsified to support an anticipated outcome by Dr. Jarrett, the first author of the manuscript.

The probe also concluded that: 

Although he did not collect the data that was investigated, Dr. D’Orazio, a physician-scientist and chief of pediatric hematology and oncology, had oversight of the laboratory and the questioned data were included in papers co-authored by Jarrett, D’Orazio and others. The investigation team cited a lack of oversight by D’Orazio but concluded that the issue did not rise to the level of research misconduct on his part.  

The university said it will be asking for corrections or retractions for the following articles (we’ve included citations, according to Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science): 

The last article is the one with the putatively honest error, the report said. 

D’Orazio, who appears to have forwarded our request for comment to a university spokesperson, has been relieved of his leadership role at the Markey Cancer Center and his endowed chair in pediatric research. He will retain his post as chief of pediatric hematology and oncology, according to the university.

D’Orazio has received at least $4 million in federal grants. 

In addition: 

Dr. D’Orazio, his lab members, and personnel under his direct supervision as principal investigator (faculty, staff, students, post-doctorates) are required to complete all Collaborative Institutional Training Initiative (CITI) Responsible Conduct of Research (RCR) modules by September 18, 2020 and are required to take yearly refresher training for each module. Also, his research personnel must complete in-person (or Zoom) training provided by Richard Grondin, Ph.D., director of Good Research Practices Resource Center, by December 1, 2020. 

Dr. D’Orazio, his lab members, and personnel under his direct supervision as principal investigator are required to utilize LabArchives to record all research activity and store all research data going forward.

The move comes almost exactly a year after the university began termination proceedings against two researchers, one of whom held a chair in cancer research, after a finding of misconduct. Another scientist was also fired as a result of that investigation.

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13 thoughts on “University of Kentucky demotes cancer researcher following finding of misconduct by scientist in his lab”

  1. Lets see…his (D’Orazio) salary will be cut from $400 K a year to $ 200 K a year. Oh, boo-hoo!

  2. The Dr. Jarrett listed as an author on all of the papers Retraction Watch cites as either containing evidence of research misconduct or honest error is _Stuart G. Garrett_, not Scott Garrett as mentioned in the RW article.

    Honest error?

  3. I really don’t think that you can expect an MD/PhD with clinical responsibilities in a hospital, much less a chair which has probably additional administrative responsibilities on top of this, even less a medical school dean (eg di Paloma (U Ky), Choi (Weill/Cornell)) to follow the work in a lab carefully. They simply don’t have the time to do this, and so they slack off in the lab responsibilities.

    My observation is that a PI in a lab has become a full time job because you have to constantly write grants , write papers, and serve on committees for a department. Its hard to imagine a PhD with a huge clinical load being able to do it all.

    Hence, IMO, MD/PhD’s are simply not worth the money they are paid, unless they have a lot of extremely honest and very cheap hardworking labor that can manage to get good publishable results without their help. And if that is the case, the MD/PhD needs to give a part of his exorbitant salary to the labor, as they are probably doing the work that he(she) should be doing.

    I really think the only reason I’m in the my MD/PhD’s physician/scientists lab is mainly for his ego, so he can call himself just that. Its all about bringing in a lot of money for the school, and if the data happens to be reproducible well that’s always a nice plus.

    1. Rather odd to suggest that increased clinical responsibilities for an MD/PhD would lead to the PI slacking off lab responsibilities. Institutionally, isn’t it a policy that increased grant/funding leads to a clinician PI “buying” back clinical function/time? This so for PI to devote correspondingly more time overseeing lab research and reduced clinical functions. One shouldn’t exonerate the fraud perpetrator whether grad student/postdoc/tech but there is a reason the PI is what he/she is – and clinical research fraud not only squanders precious resources but such data based on fraudulent data may have a detrimental human impact.

      1. One approach would be to lower the salary of the PI if there isnt enough done by the PI to insure reproducibility of the data. Another approach, which I prefer, is to actually give the data generators a semblance of a good salary and job security, instead of losing it when the grant runs out; that way, they will be less inclined to cheat. But that will never happen because its not in the academic systems’ and the PI’s interest to pay these people well, he/she is better off with 4 cheap hands rather than 2 expensive ones (sort of like the need for a lot of cheap labor on an assembly line, producing widgets). As long as this is the case, the fraud will just continue on.

  4. Also, I think the main reason why D’Orazio was demoted has nothing to do with any kind of “punishment”; I think this was a cynical calculation on the part of the school that he is far less likely to get grants with these retractions on his record, so they want to lessen his salary. As far as I know, DiPaola wasn’t demoted, he may be too untouchable.

  5. First, your not good for anything in the University setting if you don’t bring in grant money. It’s become a dirty business. Do something like this in say a Pharmaceutical company and your fired, possibly jailed, definitely fined and the company would receive millions in penalties up to and including government contract exclusion.
    Why aren’t the same standards applied?

  6. Seriously??? How is the PI supposed to know when the lab rat is making things up? The first author should be reprimanded, not the PI. It is not possible to pick up fabricated data if you trust your lab team. And you should trust your lab team. The PI is doing 2 jobs at once, one of them saving children from dying of cancer. Give him a break! Can you scientists please stop being jealous of those that got into medical school? This story makes me sick. The PI is not at fault but the vultures are closing in!

  7. I disagree. The PI should have reviewed all of the primary data to make sure that it matched the data that were reported in these publications that he was the corresponding author of and also the PI of the grants that supported the work. In this case, simply doing that would have quickly identified most of the misconduct because it would have been obvious that western blots were being misrepresented and manipulated. Lax supervision is not misconduct but it is interesting that the University of Kentucky is taking the position that failure to supervise your laboratory does require some sort of remedial and even mildly punitive action.

    1. Right On!

      The bulk of ORI’s image cases could have been nipped in the but if only people and collaborators had actually asked to see the primary data, or more minimally, even looked carefully at the figures.

      And good for UK for sending this message!

  8. 2020 retraction for:

    Nucleic Acids Res
    . 2016 Dec 15;44(22):10711-10726. doi: 10.1093/nar/gkw871. Epub 2016 Sep 28.
    AKAP12 mediates PKA-induced phosphorylation of ATR to enhance nucleotide excision repair
    Stuart G Jarrett 1, Erin M Wolf Horrell 1 2, John A D’Orazio 3 2 4 5 6
    Affiliations collapse
    1Markey Cancer Center, University of Kentucky College of Medicine, Lexington, KY 40536, USA.
    2Department of Physiology, University of Kentucky College of Medicine, Lexington, KY 40536, USA.
    3Markey Cancer Center, University of Kentucky College of Medicine, Lexington, KY 40536, USA
    4Department of Toxicology and Cancer Biology, University of Kentucky College of Medicine, Lexington, KY 40536, USA.
    5Department of Pharmacology and Nutritional Science, University of Kentucky College of Medicine, Lexington, KY 40536, USA.
    6Department of Pediatrics, University of Kentucky College of Medicine, Lexington, KY 40536, USA.
    PMID: 27683220 PMCID: PMC5159552 DOI: 10.1093/nar/gkw871

    2020 retraction notice.

    Nucleic Acids Research (2016) 44(22): 10711–10726, doi:10.1093/nar/gkw871

    The authors are requesting retraction of the above article pursuant to an internal investigation by a team of scientists at the University of Kentucky that recently determined it contains fabricated and/or falsified data.

    Pursuant to the investigation, the University of Kentucky identified that in the above-identified paper in Nucleic Acids Research, there were:

    Inclusion of blank panels and/or manipulation of confocal and PLA microscopy data for negative controls in Figures 1, 5 & 6; falsification.

    Failure to maintain original data; fabrication.

    More specifically:

    Figure 1c: Using noise software techniques, the investigation concluded that blank (black) panels were substituted for original PLA images for the ‘no UV’ conditions.

    Figure 5b: Using noise software techniques, the investigation concluded that blank (black) panels were substituted for original PLA images for the ‘no UV’ conditions (middle column, first and second rows).

    Figure 6a,b,d,e,g,h: similarly, noise-detecting software techniques confirmed substitution of PLA images with blank black squares in each of the panels in question, again for the ‘no UV’ negative controls.

    None of the original images were annotated and/or saved. The laboratory, during the course of the investigation, was able to go back to the core facility computer housing the confocal microscope used for the experimentation. By matching nuclear contours and characteristics (DAPI signal), the authors were able to identify many but not all distinct cells whose images were used in the figure panels. The authors uncovered significant irregularities, including the presence of fluorescent signal in several of the original images serving as negative controls (vs. no signal in the images used in the published figure). Therefore, this is data falsification. Moreover, there was evidence that two photos were taken of the same cell but from different exposure times and labeled as distinct conditions (6g, 6h).

    The corresponding author(s) take responsibility for the incidents and sincerely apologize for any inconvenience this might cause.

  9. Why doesn’t pubmed flag the primary articles? This is a must do to prevent scientist from trying to follow up on those studies.

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