UConn Investigation Finds That Health Researcher Fabricated Data

A three-year investigation by the University of Connecticut has found that the director of its Cardiovascular Research Center falsified and fabricated data at least 145 times, in some cases digitally manipulating images using PhotoShop.

The researcher, Dipak K. Das, is best known for his work on resveratrol, a compound present in grapes and other foods that some research suggests can have beneficial effects on the heart and could slow aging, though recent studies have cast doubt on the latter claim.

The university has begun a process to dismiss Das, who has tenure.

Das has been quoted regularly in news articles, usually talking about resveratrol, and his papers have been cited often, as the blog Retraction Watch points out. But the importance of his research is unclear.

David Sinclair, a professor of pathology at Harvard University who is known for his discovery that resveratrol appears to extend the life of mice and fruit flies, said he had not heard of Das. “I’ve not worked with him,” Sinclair wrote in an e-mail. “Looking through it, the work is generally not published in leading molecular-biology journals.”

Still, Das had published quite a bit, and the university has notified 11 journals of problems the investigation found with his research. “Whenever we get a call about resveratrol, he was our primary guy,” said Chris DeFrancesco, a spokesman for the university. UConn also declined to accept nearly $900,000 in federal grants for Das’s laboratory.

The report on the investigation is a whopping 60,000 pages long. While the full report is not yet public, there is a 49-page summary of what the investigation found. It’s pretty technical, but here are a few highlights:

  • Das was “intimately involved in the generation of figures that were determined to have been manipulated (either by fabrication or falsification).”
  • Others in his laboratory may have also been involved in wrongdoing. DeFrancesco, the spokesman, said an investigation into who else might have been involved is continuing.
  • The data manipulation, investigators concluded, was “intentional” and “designed to deceive.”

Plenty of questions remain unanswered. Was Das pushing a certain agenda? What will the effect be, if any, on resveratrol research, which is already the subject of some controversy?

Das did not answer his phone or respond to an e-mail interview request. The university did provide a copy of a response he submitted to the report. He writes in a letter dated June 5, 2010, that, in part because of a recent stroke, he cannot respond to the allegations immediately. In a subsequent letter, he writes that the university’s investigation is racist, calling it a “conspiracy against Indian scientists.”

UPDATE: Retraction Watch has done some more reporting and found that David Sinclair, who I quote above, served on a panel with Das in 2010. Now, that doesn’t mean he was being untruthful when he said he didn’t recognize Das’s name. All of us forget names. But worth noting.

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