News

University of Toronto researcher resigns over “systematic” data fraud

BMJ 2015; 351 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.h6097 (Published 12 November 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;351:h6097
  1. Owen Dyer
  1. 1Montreal

The medical journal JAMA is considering retracting an article after an investigation found “unequivocal evidence of systematic data manipulation” by the lead author, Sophie Jamal, an acclaimed Canadian endocrinologist.

In September Jamal resigned her associate professorship at the University of Toronto and gave up her clinical privileges and posts at the city’s Women’s College Hospital, where she had been research director of the Centre for Osteoporosis and Bone Health and the division head of endocrinology and metabolism.

Jamal has also stood down as co-director of the Toronto centre for the Canadian Multicentre Osteoporosis Study, Canada’s largest ever study on osteoporosis, which is following almost 10 000 women. She has taken up a post at a local clinic, where staff said that she will specialise in treating osteoporosis.

A joint investigation by the hospital and the university concluded that Jamal had altered data in a 2011 study examining glyceryl trinitrate ointment and bone mineral density in osteoporosis.1 She had concluded that applying the ointment increased bone mineral density and decreased bone resorption over time.

But “the findings were made to look more positive than they were,” explained Paula Rochon, vice president of research at Women’s College Hospital, to the Toronto Star.

The hospital’s president, Marilyn Emery, told the Star that she did not know why Jamal had manipulated the data. “We haven’t been in that kind of conversation with her,” said Emery. The original complaint against Jamal was made to the university, not the hospital, but the university has declined to elaborate. Jamal herself declined media comment through her lawyer.

The editors of JAMA are aware of the inquiry findings and said that they would “make a decision on retraction in the coming weeks.” The paper has been cited 28 times. Its conclusion that nitroglycerin [glyceryl trinitrate] ointment could improve bone density attracted brief notice in the medical press in 2011.2 The finding directly contradicted the only previous large study of the question.3

The hospital has written to the 243 postmenopausal women who participated in the study to warn them that they may have received misleading information. But there was no evidence of patient harm and Jamal’s coauthors were not involved in manipulating data, wrote Emery in a memo to hospital staff.

“The investigating committee found there to be no deficiencies in any institutional systems or processes at Women’s College Hospital,” added Emery. “WCH fully complied with its research misconduct policy in conducting this investigation and ensured that the allegations were addressed promptly, thoroughly and effectively.”

Jamal has served on the Scientific Advisory Council for Osteoporosis Canada and was a member of the editorial boards of Osteoporosis International and the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research. She also received the Canadian Society of Endocrinology and Metabolism’s young investigator award for 2012.

She has been first author on about 50 published papers. Asked by the Toronto Star whether Jamal’s previous work could still be trusted, Emery said this was a “natural question” that the hospital was now considering, although most of Jamal’s work had been done prior to her employment there.

Jamal was herself writing in the Toronto Star as recently as March, discussing osteoporosis and chronic kidney disease in a guest column used by the university’s medical faculty.4

Notes

Cite this as: BMJ 2015;351:h6097

References

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