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MicroRNA Researcher Manipulated Data

Jesse Jenkins

A microRNA researcher manipulated data in six published articles, which are now slated for retraction. Learn more...

An Ohio State University (OSU) professor intentionally manipulated the data in six articles published from 2004–10 (1–6), according to a report published in the Federal Register by the Office of Research Integrity (ORI) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on December 26, 2012.

Ohio State University professor Terry Elton (foreground) has been found guilty of manipulating figures (background) in six papers published from 2004-10. Source: Ohio State University, Pubmed

In that notice, the agency said that Terry S. Elton, OSU professor of pharmacology, engaged in research misconduct by falsifying or fabricating Western blots in those six published articles as well as in federal grant applications. As a result, the researcher has agreed to exclude himself from federal funding for three years and to request that those articles be retracted.

Elton’s research focused on the role of microRNA expression and gene regulation in cardiovascular diseases. In a 2007 article published in The Journal of Biological Chemistry, Elton and colleagues reported that a gene polymorphism associated with cardiovascular disease interferes with microRNA attenuation of that gene’s expression, possibly leading to disease (4). Since its publication, the article has been cited 139 times according to Thomson Reuters Web of Knowledge. The article is among those containing manipulated figure data; it is slated for retraction.

The research misconduct findings are the result of two OSU investigations and an oversight review by the ORI. OSU was tipped off to Elton’s research misconduct by an anonymous source who contacted ORI officials in July 2010, according to an OSU statement released by senior director of Research and Innovation Communications, Jeff Grabmeir.

“Ohio State confirmed misconduct by Dr. Elton and has fully cooperated with the ORI over the course of its investigation. The investigation showed that Dr. Elton falsified and/or fabricated data from Western blots, a standard laboratory technique used to detect proteins,” explained Grabmeir’s statement.

In the end, Elton has agreed to exclude himself from contracting or subcontracting with any federal agencies for three years. In addition, he has been removed from an advisory capacity to the U.S. Public Health Service for three years from November 26. He has also agreed to request that the six papers containing falsified or fabricated data be retracted.

In addition, OSU has imposed sanctions of its own, which include a written reprimand, mandatory counseling on research misconduct, and complete formal training on research ethics. Elton will also be prohibited from supervising undergraduate or graduate students, postdoctoral trainees, or laboratory technicians for three years. Also, all manuscripts and grant applications involving Elton’s participation will require review and approval by university officials prior to submission for the next five years.

“Ohio State University takes allegations of research misconduct seriously and will continue to work diligently to protect the integrity of research produced by members of the university community,” the statement read.

Neither Elton nor ORI directors replied to requests for comment.


1. Kuhn, D. E., G. J. Nuovo, A. V. Terry, M. M. Martin, G. E. Malana, S. E. Sansom, A. P. Pleister, W. D. Beck, E. Head, D. S. Feldman, and T. S. Elton. 2010. Chromosome 21-derived microRNAs provide an etiological basis for aberrant protein expression in human down syndrome brains. The Journal of biological chemistry 285(2):1529-1543.

2. Kuhn, D. E., G. J. Nuovo, M. M. Martin, G. E. Malana, A. P. Pleister, J. Jiang, T. D. Schmittgen, A. V. Terry, K. Gardiner, E. Head, D. S. Feldman, and T. S. Elton. 2008. Human chromosome 21-derived miRNAs are overexpressed in down syndrome brains and hearts. Biochemical and biophysical research communications 370(3):473-477.

3. Martin, M. M., J. A. Buckenberger, J. Jiang, G. E. Malana, D. L. Knoell, D. S. Feldman, and T. S. Elton. 2007. TGF-β1 stimulates human AT1 receptor expression in lung fibroblasts by cross talk between the smad, p38 MAPK, JNK, and PI3K signaling pathways. American Journal of Physiology - Lung Cellular and Molecular Physiology 293(3):L790-L799.

4. Martin, M. M., J. A. Buckenberger, J. Jiang, G. E. Malana, G. J. Nuovo, M. Chotani, D. S. Feldman, T. D. Schmittgen, and T. S. Elton. 2007. The human angiotensin II type 1 receptor +1166 A/C polymorphism attenuates MicroRNA-155 binding. Journal of Biological Chemistry 282(33):24262-24269.

5. Duffy, A. A., M. M. Martin, and T. S. Elton. 2004. Transcriptional regulation of the AT1 receptor gene in immortalized human trophoblast cells. Biochimica et biophysica acta 1680(3):158-170.