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No Contest Plea in Fabricated Cancer Data Case

08/10/2012
Ashley Yeager

A former John Wayne Cancer Institute researcher has pleaded no contest to charges that he fabricated results in grant reports and published papers.


Former John Wayne Cancer Institute cancer researcher Mepur Ravindranath has pleaded no contest to research misconduct charges and now faces three years of increased supervision on federal research projects and intense scrutiny of any future proposals for federal funding.

Mepur Ravindranath at the welcome reception of Cancer Immunotherapy and Immunomonitoring Conference in 2011. Credit: Koltan et al., Immunotherapy, 2011.





The U.S. Office of Research Integrity (ORI) found Ravindranath guilty of falsifying data in progress reports for National Cancer Institute and National Institutes of Health grants and in two publications in scientific journals. Although Ravindranath contended that the statistics are correct, he has decided not to contest the ORI ruling because it would cause him “undue financial hardship and stress,” and he wanted finality, according to the Aug. 3 statement. As a result, on July 2, he entered into a voluntary settlement agreement with the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).

In 2005, Ravindranath and his collaborators published a paper in the International Journal of Cancer showing that patients with hormone-sensitive prostate cancer had an endogenous immune response to a molecule, GD1a, which scientists think aids in cancer progression. Healthy controls did not show the immune response, according to the published results (1). The paper was cited 22 times, according to Google Scholar.

But the Aug. 3 statement issued by ORI states that Ravindranath fabricated the number of subjects in the study. He then presented the same data in progress and final reports to his funders as well as in a review article discussing future cancer treatments. The review article, published in Future Oncology in 2007, used the 2005 findings, among others, to explain how studying tumor cell's exterior sugar and fat molecules and induced immune responses "may yield clinically important biomarkers and treatments for the management of human cancer," according to the authors (2). The review article has been cited 11 times, according to Google Scholar.

Because the original methodology was found to be faulty, ORI also ruled that the tables of results and the statistical significance of the findings in the 2007 paper, as well as in the grant reports and the 2005 paper, were "incorrect and false.” However, as of yet, the papers have not been retracted by the journals. The journal editors did not respond to queries about the status of the articles given the ORI’s findings.

When Ravindranath published the falsified research, he was director of the Laboratory of Glycoimmunotherapy at John Wayne Cancer Institute. In 2008, he began publishing papers in affiliation with the Hoag Cancer Center, in Newport Beach, CA, and then with the Pacific Clinical Research in Santa Monica, CA. He now works with researchers at the Terasaki Foundation Laboratory in Los Angeles, according to his latest paper (3) and his LinkedIn account.

Ravindranath declined to comment about his past and future work. The Terasaki lab did not respond to inquiries about Ravindranath’s affiliation with the lab or plans for increased supervision of his work if he is still employed there.

References

1. Ravindranath, M.H., S. Muthugounder, N. Presser, X. Ye, S. Brosman, and D.L. Morton. 2005. Endogenous immune response to gangliosides in patients with confined prostate cancer. Int. J. Cancer 166:368-377.

2. Ravindranath, M.H. P. Yesowitch, C. Sumobay, and D.L. Morton. 2007. Glycoimmunomics of human cancer: Current concepts and future perspectives. Future Oncology 3(2): 201-214.

3. Ravindranath, M.H., T. Pham, M. Ozawa, and P.I. Terasaki. 2012. Antibodies to HLA-E may account for the non-donor-specific anti-HLA class-Ia antibodies in renal and liver transplant recipients. Int. Immun. 24(1): 43-57.

Keywords:  research misconduct