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Former Indiana University grad student admits misconduct

Erin Podolak

Indiana University and the U.S. Public Health Service have found that a former Indiana University student falsified data while researching cellular insulin resistance.

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On April 16, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued a notice that the Office of Research Integrity (ORI) and the Assistant Secretary for Health have taken final action in the misconduct case of Emily Horvath, a former graduate student at Indiana University (IU). Based on Horvath’s own admissions, IU and the U.S. Public Health Service (PHS) have concluded that the former student engaged in research misconduct while supported by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), a Predoctoral Fellowship Award, and the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK).

Horvath admitted to falsifying original research data when entering values into computer programs for statistical analysis. The data was used in two research publications, two grant applications, and her doctoral thesis. According to the HHS, Horvath said her goal was to reduce the magnitude of errors within data groups, to gain greater statistical power.

Horvath said that figures 2C, 5, 6D, and 11 in the research paper “Antidiabetogenic effects of chromium mitigate hyperinsulinemia-induced cellular insulin resistance via correction of plasma membrane cholesterol imbalance” (which appeared in Molecular Endocrinology in 2008) were falsified. She also admitted to falsifying figure 2C in the paper “Hexosamine biosynthesis pathway flux contributes to insulin resistance via altering membrane PIP2 and cortical F-actin,” which appeared in Endocrinology in 2009.

Two grant applications also contained falsified figures. Grant application R01 DK082773-01 of the NIDDK and NIH, “Mechanisms of membrane-based insulin resistance & therapeutic reversal strategies,” contained the false figures 6B, 8, 9D, 16D, and 21. Horvath also admitted to falsifying figures 6B, 18, 22, 23B, and 24 in grant application R01 AT001846-06 of the NCCAM and NIH, “Chromium enhanced insulin &GLUT4 action via lipid rafts,” which was withdrawn in May 2009.

Both papers and both grant applications listed Jeffrey S. Elmendork, whose laboratory Horvath was a member of while working toward her Ph.D., as the principal investigator. Horvath was awarded her doctorate in Biochemistry from Indiana University in December 2008. She admitted to falsifying figures 2C, 5, 6D, 11, 13C, 15A, 16A, 17A, 18, 19C, and 20A in her thesis, “Cholesterol-dependent mechanism(s) of insulin-sensitizing therapeutics.”

As part of a voluntary settlement agreement, Horvath has agreed to submit to several restrictions for a period of three years, beginning March 22, 2010. These restrictions require that she exclude herself from any advisory capacity within the PHS, that any institution submitting an application for PHS funding that involves Horvath submit a plan for supervision of her duties, and that any PHS-supported research in which she is involved submit certification that any data she produces is legitimate. Horvath has also agreed to write letters, approved by the ORI, to the editors of Molecular Endocrinology and Endocrinology to provide appropriate corrections for the falsified reports published in the two journals.