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Ten Years after Misconduct Allegations, ORI Finally Takes Action

04/10/2013
Andrew S. Wiecek

Ten years after a blood researcher allegedly falsified data, the ORI takes action against him. What took so long? Find out...


Almost ten years after a University of Washington (UW) blood researcher was accused of misconduct, the federal Office of Research Integrity (ORI) has finally taken action in the case.

The ORI has found former UW research assistant professor Andrew Andranik Aprikyan guilty of research misconduct by a preponderance of the evidence. Source: Patrick Riley, The Daily UW




The ORI has found former UW research assistant professor Andrew Andranik Aprikyan guilty of research misconduct by a preponderance of the evidence gathered during investigations led by his institution and additional analysis by the federal agency. Specifically, Aprikyan was found guilty of falsifying data in two papers that reported findings from federally funded research projects as well as three grant applications submitted to federal agencies.

Although Aprikyan denies the charges of misconduct, he has agreed not to contest the decision because doing so would cause undue financial hardship. As a result, Aprikyan received a two-year probationary period, during which time any federally funded research project that he works on will need to be closely supervised by his research institute.

In 2001, Aprikyan was awarded a five-year research grant from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to study the molecular biology of severe congenital neutropenia (SCN), a condition that causes recurrent infections in affected individuals. In total, Aprikyan received over $1.1 million in funding through this grant.

In 2003, Aprikyan and colleagues published two papers, one in Blood and the other in Experimental Hematology, describing their studies on SCN (1-2). In Blood, the team reported on mutations in the neutrophil elastase (NE) gene that they suggested were associated with SCN. Meanwhile, in Experimental Hematology, the group suggested that mutations in the NE gene produce defective bone marrow myeloid progenitor cells, leading to the development of SCN.

But after another researcher reported that some of the images in the Blood article appeared to have been manipulated, Aprikyan retracted the paper in 2004, and the Experimental Hematology paper was corrected in 2006, according to The Seattle Times (3-4). The ORI report concluded that he falsified data and figures in those papers to strengthen his hypothesis regarding the role of NE mutations in SCN pathogenesis.

One of the falsified figures published in the Experimental Hematology paper was included in Aprikyan’s 2001 NCI grant application, according to the ORI. In addition, other falsified figures were included in two grant applications submitted to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK).

After the original allegations of scientific misconduct in 2003, the UW reviewed Aprikyan’s research through multiple investigations and hearings before eventually firing him in 2010, as reported by The Seattle Times. Aprikyan appealed this decision, but according to Washington state court documents the appeal was dismissed in October 2011 because Aprikyan failed to serve a petition for judicial review to all of the parties involved.

According to the 2010 Seattle Times article, Aprikyan received over $2.5 million in grant funding from federal agencies and other sources for his research at UW, and the ORI had already started its own investigation into these allegations.

Three years later, the ORI has finally found that Aprikyan did indeed commit research misconduct, sentencing him to two years probation.

Throughout the investigations and legal proceedings, Aprikyan has maintained that his mistakes were innocent and not misconduct. "I did make mistakes," he said to The Seattle Times in 2010. "It was not only my mistakes. This is research that you do, and there are a number of people involved, people who provide input. There were errors and miscommunication."

Meanwhile, Aprikyan has continued to publish findings from his research on neutropenia, with 12 PubMed indexed papers since the 2004 retraction in Blood. His most recent article appeared in the British Journal of Haematology (BJH) on February 25, 2013 (5). In contrast to his previously published papers, Aprikyan authored the BJH paper under his middle name instead of his first name.

That paper also states that Aprikyan is currently affiliated with the Institute for Nanotechnology and Stem Cell Biology in Seattle, WA. But the only other reference to the institute is on Aprikyan’s LinkedIn profile, in which it appears that the institute is part of the UW and that Aprikyan is still a research assistant professor at the university. While the UW website does have an Institute for Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine and a Center for Nanotechnology, its website does not appear to have any reference to an Institute for Nanotechnology and Stem Cell Biology.

Furthermore, the address listed for this institute does not seem to be affiliated with the UW but rather with an office building rented out by several biotechnology companies, including Icogenex Corporation and Prevencio, LLC. The specific suite number that is listed is the same as the one listed on the website of AttoDx, Inc.

According to their website, the company develops “products for viable pathogen detection and identification for medical, food, water, and environmental applications,” and currently has ongoing collaborations with the UW. James Davie, a trustee of the Seattle Biomedical Research Institute, is the founder, president, and chief executive officer of the AttoDx.

The ORI, Aprikyan, and AttoDx did not respond to requests for comments.

References

1. Aprikyan, A. A., G. Carlsson, S. Stein, A. Oganesian, B. Fadeel, D. C. Dale, J. Palmblad, and J.-I. Henter. 2003. Neutrophil elastase mutations in severe congenital neutropenia patients of the original kostmann family. Blood (January).

2. Aprikyan, A. A., T. Kutyavin, S. Stein, P. Aprikian, E. Rodger, W. C. Liles, L. A. Boxer, and D. C. Dale. 2003. Cellular and molecular abnormalities in severe congenital neutropenia predisposing to leukemia.Experimental hematology 31(5):372-381.

3. 2004. Retraction of aprikyan et al. Blood 103(2):389.

4. 2006. Erratum. Experimental hematology 34(12):1771-1772.

5. Aprikyan, A. A., and Z. Khuchua. 2013. Advances in the understanding of barth syndrome. Br J Haematol (February):n/a.

Keywords:  research misconduct