News

British doctor fabricated results of a non-existent experiment, US body finds

BMJ 2012; 344 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.e2839 (Published 18 April 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;344:e2839
  1. Clare Dyer
  1. 1BMJ

A British ophthalmologist who headed a US laboratory involved in pioneering stem cell research fabricated the results of a non-existent pilot experiment in applying for two federal grants, the US Office of Research Integrity (ORI) has found.

Peter Francis, who has resigned from his job as associate professor and director of the Translational Clinical Trials Center at Oregon Health and Science University’s Casey Eye Institute, was granted permanent US residency on the basis of the country’s national interest in attracting clinical researchers. In 2002, while still in Britain, he won the National Research prize for “Best up and coming medical researcher in the UK.”

The ORI found that Francis had “fabricated results of a pilot experiment in which he claimed to have injected retinal pigment epithelial cells obtained from Rhesus monkey embryonic cells into a strain of rats that develops retinal degeneration.” He claimed that when the rats were tested they showed “enhanced photoreceptor preservation and no adverse effects,” compared to mock injected controls.

But Francis admitted that the pilot experiment had not even been carried out when he submitted the two grant applications to the National Eye Institute for federal funding, the ORI said. The office was called in after an investigation by the university.

Francis took his medical degree at Southampton University and qualified as an ophthalmologist in London, specialising in inherited and acquired retinal diseases. He obtained a PhD in molecular genetics at the Institute of Ophthalmology. After a fellowship at the Casey Eye Institute, he became a member of the faculty in 2006.

The ORI said Francis agreed as part of a voluntary settlement that for a period of two years any research he undertook for the Public Health Service should be supervised and any institution employing him should certify that any application, report, abstract or manuscript was based on actual experiments or was otherwise legitimately derived.

The university said in a statement: “OHSU [Oregon Health and Science University] takes research integrity matters very seriously. When questions were raised about one of Dr Francis’ research projects, he was immediately placed on leave. An investigation took place by our scientific integrity committee and the results were reported to the Office of Research Integrity of the National Institutes of Health. At the conclusion of the investigation, Dr Francis decided to leave the university.

“The importance of the ongoing research previously conducted in the Francis lab at OHSU has been recognized by the National Institutes of Health, which approved the appointment of new principal investigators at OHSU to continue the work.

“OHSU has several mechanisms in place to rapidly respond when concerns about research are raised. These measures include methods for reporting concerns by staff and colleagues and continuous oversight by our research integrity office. This is a case where those systems worked well and we were able to respond appropriately.”

Notes

Cite this as: BMJ 2012;344:e2839