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Federal Grant Bar for Neurologist

02/29/2012
David Pittman

A former SUNY neurology department chair has been found guilty of fabricating data in two published papers, four grants applications, and a submitted manuscript.

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A former State University of New York (SUNY) neurobiology department chair has been banned from conducting federally funded research for a year and will have his work supervised for another two years. The ban is the result of an investigation that found he falsified data in two published papers and four grants applications submitted to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Michael W. Miller, former professor and chair of the department of neuroscience and physiology at SUNY, Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, "engaged in research misconduct by falsifying and/or fabricating data that were included in grant applications," according to the US Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Research Integrity (ORI).

Miller falsified figures 4 and 6 in J. Neurochem. 2007 by altering bar graphs to increase the significance of the effect of ethanol exposure and withdrawal on NGF or trkA protein expression. Source: J. Neurochem

Miller's research focused on the effects of alcohol exposure during fetal development. According to a Federal Register notice published February 27, 2012, Miller changed data to exaggerate ethanol's effect on development.

In a 2007 paper published in Journal of Neurochemistry, Miller altered bar graphs to increase the significance of ethanol exposure to confirm his hypothesis that alcohol exposure and withdraw affect normal brain circuits (1). The paper was retracted last month.

Likewise, a 2009 paper published in Developmental Neuroscience contained fabricated bar graphs that reportedly showed that ethanol exposure caused brain damage in the brain of young mice (2). In 2010, the journal editors contacted Miller about the unreliable data to rectify the situation. However, after receiving additional information last year, they requested a retraction from him. In January, honoring a request from SUNY, the journal retracted the paper.

Furthermore, Miller submitted a manuscript to the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that supposedly contained data on an experiment in which mice were exposed to alcohol during their early development. However, that data was never actually generated. That same fabricated data was also included in an NIH grant application.

On February 28, SUNY Upstate Medical University vice president of research Steven Goodman released a statement that said the school was "deeply disappointed by the apparent lack of regard for the integrity of scientific discovery."

"Adherence to university policies that outline professional conduct on matters related to research is of the utmost importance at Upstate," Goodman said in the statement.

In 2009, the school began investigating Miller's work, interviewing individuals associated with Miller's work and reviewing his manuscripts, computer files, and notes. Last fall, Miller left his position at the university. In the end, the school reported its results to the ORI.

As a result, Miller has voluntarily entered into an exclusion agreement with the ORI. That agreement bars him from receiving a federal grant for one year and from doing unsupervised federal research for two years after that. Also, he is banned from any advisory role to the government for three years. While Miller did not admit or deny wrongdoing, he conceded to the evidence of research misconduct.

References

1. Bruns, M.B., and Miller, M.W. 2007. Functional nerve growth factor and trkA autocrine/paracrine circuits in adult rat cortex are revealed by episodic ethanol exposure and withdrawal. J. Neurochem. 100:1115-68.

2. Miller, M.W., and Hu, H. 2009. Lability of neuronal lineage decisions is revealed by acute exposures to ethanol. Dev. Neurosci. 31:50-7.

Keywords:  misconduct retractions