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New Deal for Researcher Found Guilty of Misconduct

04/22/2013
Jesse Jenkins

A cancer researcher who faced debarment after being found guilty of falsifying data will now remain eligible for federal funding. Why? Find out...


In 2011, Scripps Research Institute cancer researcher Philippe Bois was banned by the federal Office of Research Integrity (ORI) from federally funded research projects for three years because of research misconduct. But now, after spending two years appealing that decision, Bois has struck a new deal with the ORI, one in which he remains eligible to participate in federally funded research.

After an investigation led by St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, the Office of Research Integrity found that Bois falsified data in a figure from a 2005 paper published in the Journal of Cell Biology. Source: Scripps Research Institute/Journal of Cell Biology




Under the new agreement, the ORI affirms its findings of research misconduct against Bois, but will no longer pursue debarment as punishment. Instead, the administrative action merely requires additional supervision of Bois’ federally funded research by his research institute.

In return, Bois—who still denies the findings of research misconduct—has agreed not to appeal the ORI’s most recent findings. The agreement was made on March 14 and published in the Federal Register on April 18.

“I have been fighting for almost seven years to clear my name, and I am glad to be able to put this matter behind me and to move on with my career in science,” said Bois in a statement released by his attorney, Callan Stein of the law firm of Donoghue Barrett & Singal in Boston.

“ORI’s decision to cease seeking debarment is a clear signal to me that its ‘findings’ would not have been sustained by a judge and that its proposed punishment, a three-year debarment, was excessive and unreasonable,” Bois continued.

In May 2011, the ORI charged Bois with research misconduct for work he had done as a postdoc at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Specifically, the ORI found that Bois “knowingly and intentionally” falsified data in papers published in the Journal of Cell Biology (JCB) and in Molecular and Cellular Biology (MCB) in 2005 (1-2). The JCB paper was retracted in 2007, and the MCB paper was later corrected.

In response, Bois maintained his innocence, stating that the errors in those publications were unintentional and requesting a hearing to contest the ORI’s findings. But an administrative law judge from the ORI’s parent agency—the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)—denied Bois’ request. As a result, the HHS banned Bois from participating in federally funded research projects in June 2011.

In March 2012, Bois filed a federal lawsuit filed against the HHS, which prompted a federal court judge to overturn the HHS judge’s decision , effectively vacating the debarment and granting Bois the right to contest his case before an HHS judge. That decision was the first time an HHS judge’s ruling had been overturned since the ORI overhauled the appeals process in 2005.

“I am confident that had ORI been forced to put its evidence to the test, its ‘findings’ would have been found wanting,” said Boise in his statement. “By settling, ORI avoided having to turn over its evidence, including my laboratory notebooks, which I would have used to disprove their allegations.”

Bois left the Scripps Research Institute in June 2011 and is currently the chief science officer at AlgaStar, Inc., which develops bioreactors for commercial-scale production of algae biomass for the biofuel and pharmaceutical industries.

ORI officials did not respond to requests for comment.

References

1. Bois, P.R., K. Izeradjene, P.J. Houghton, J.L. Cleveland, J.A. Houghton, and G.C. Grosveldz. 2007. FOXO1a acts as a selective tumor suppressor in alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma. J. Cell Biol. 177:563.

2. Bois, P.R., R.A. Borgon, C. Vonrhein, and T. Izard. 2005. Structural dynamics of alpha-actinin-vinculin interactions. Mol. Cell. Biol. 25:6112-6122.