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Government report says former Duke researcher faked data for 39 papers, now banned from funding

Erin Potts-Kant, a former Duke researcher who has been accused of falsifying experiments, was officially banned from receiving federal funding Oct. 1.

A report from the U.S. Office of Research Integrity issued Oct. 31 found that Potts-Kant “engaged in research misconduct by knowingly and intentionally falsifying and fabricating research data.” The faked data—including 117 figures and two tables—was in 39 published papers, three manuscripts and two research records, the report found. 

Although the U.S. Office of Research Integrity found that manipulated data was present in 39 of her authored papers, only 18 have since been retracted, according to Retraction Watch. Retractions are typically issued by the journal in which a paper was published, not a government office.

Michael Schoenfeld, Duke’s vice president for public affairs and government relations, declined to comment on the report.

A researcher in the pulmonary, allergy and critical care department of Duke Health, Potts-Kant was fired from Duke and arrested in 2013 under charges of embezzlement. In response to a 2015 whistleblower lawsuit alleging that Duke used the fudged findings to secure hundreds of millions in grants, the University paid $112.5 million in a settlement announced in March.

The Office of Research Integrity’s latest report on Potts-Kant states that she agreed “to exclude herself permanently from any contracting or subcontracting with any agency of the United States Government and from eligibility for or involvement in nonprocurement programs of the United States Government referred to as ‘covered transactions’.”

Additionally, she was blocked from serving in any advisory role for the U.S. Public Health Service. 

The falsified data was used in work supported by 60 grants from the National Institutes of Health, the report found.

Potts-Kant changed recorded measurements of lung functions in mice or fabricated the numbers altogether, according to the report. She also altered data measuring immune system activation in mouse lungs.

In the past decade, Duke has been hit hard with findings of research misconduct, leading the University to create an Office of Research and Office for Scientific Integrity, as well as enact several other measures to address the issue. 

“We are striving for an ‘ownership’ culture, in which everyone at Duke feels a sense of responsibility to each other and to the institution,” Vice President for Research Lawrence Carin wrote in a September email to The Chronicle. “That means doing the right thing, always, and, if something seems amiss, bringing that to the attention of school leaders and/or Office of Scientific Integrity.”

Anil Potti, a former professor and cancer researcher at the University, was also found to have committed research misconduct, according to a 2015 ORI report. Potti currently practices medicine at the Grand Forks Cancer Center in North Dakota.

The NIH has also hit the University with more stringent restrictions in March 2018. The new requirements included submitting itemized budgets for grants more than $250,000 and obtaining the NIH’s permission before transferring remaining funds to another budget period.

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