Duke admits that falsified research could have “potentially affected” grant applications and the researcher involved in the fraud admits to altering data in latest court documents.
In November 2015, Joseph Thomas, a former lab analyst at the University, brought forth a lawsuit that accuses Duke of mishandling allegations of research misconduct. The defendants included in the suit were Duke University, Duke University Health System, former professor of medicine William Foster and former clinical research coordinator Erin Potts-Kant. Last week, the defendants responded to the misconduct allegations.
In these court documents, Duke admits that at least one grant application and one Final Progress Report for a grant contained data that was “potentially affected by Potts-Kant’s research misconduct” after her arrest in March 2013.
Potts-Kant admits she “generated experiment data that was altered,” but denies that she did not even run the experiments. Foster denies both charges and Duke admits that Potts-Kant told the Ad Hoc Investigation Committee—which reviewed her research after her arrest—that she “fabricated and/or falsified [data] that were included in various publications and grant applications by changing or making up data to either reduce variability in experimental results...or to enhance or create a ‘signal’ that indicated a contrast between control and experimental animals...”
In April, U.S. District Court Judge Catherine Eagles rejected the University’s request to dismiss a lawsuit that accuses Duke of major research fraud. In her decision, U.S. District Court Judge Catherine Eagles noted that the suit could expose Duke to damages. If unsuccessful, the University may be responsible for paying out close to triple the financial amount in question for its alleged actions, which could total up to $600 million.
Since Potts-Kants’ arrest, 16 of her publications—all of which featured other Duke researchers—have been retracted, according to the website Retraction Watch.
Thomas originally filed the lawsuit under the False Claims Act, which allows "whistleblowers" unconnected with the government to file suit on behalf of the government in order to recover federal funds. In March, the lawsuit was moved from a federal court in Roanoke, Va. to the district court in Greensboro.