Former Brigham and Harvard cancer researcher fabricated data, federal authorities find

A former research fellow at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School has been found by federal authorities to have fabricated and falsified data in a scientific manuscript that was accepted by a journal but withdrawn before publication.

According to a report by the federal Office of Research Integrity, Jian Ma was found to have falsified or fabricated portions of multiple figures that compared different types of mouse lung cancer cells.

The Office of Research Integrity “found that the Respondent [Ma] knowingly and intentionally fabricated and falsified data in portions of figures in an unpublished manuscript,” the report states.

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Those figures appeared in a paper that was accepted for publication by the Journal of Clinical Investigation in 2008, but it was withdrawn by one of the authors in early 2009, before it was published, according to a report of the finding of misconduct, which is scheduled to be published in the Federal Register on Thursday. The finding does not specify which of the authors withdrew the paper.

Ma is no longer affiliated with the Brigham or the medical school, according to both institutions.

The editor of the journal said he was unable to respond until Thursday.

The fabricated images were used to support the paper’s finding, which concerned a gene’s involvement in lung cancer development and sensitivity to a drug called rapamycin.

In a statement, a spokeswoman from the Brigham said allegations of misconduct came to light “during review of an unpublished article.”

The hospital “immediately conducted our own investigation per our policy and in conjunction with Harvard Medical School, and consistent with federal policy,” the statement said. “We did find research misconduct and reported our findings to the ORI. We concur with the findings and administrative actions put forward by the ORI.”

The finding of research misconduct includes sanctions against Ma, requiring that for three years, if federal funds are used to support research on which Ma works, a “supervisory plan must be designed to ensure the scientific integrity of his research contribution.” A research institution that employs Ma must certify that the data provided by him are accurately reported in any application or report of federally-funded research. He is also prohibited from serving as a consultant or adviser to the goverment’s Public Health Service.

Dr. Kwok-Kin Wong, the senior author of the paper and a physician and scientist at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, wrote in a statement that the fabrication was discovered after the manuscript was accepted.

“It was noted that there were some irregularities with one of the immuno-blots depicted in one of the figures. When we asked the postdoctoral fellow to show us the original film for this piece of data, he confessed to splicing the figure together from several blots,” Wong said. “At that time, a formal investigation was launched and the manuscript was withdrawn. All the experiments in the manuscript were subsequently redone and carefully reanalyzed by all the other authors. This series of experiments was then submitted and accepted for publication at Oncogene.”