The independent news organization of Duke University

NIH lifts restrictions for Duke research that it imposed after misconduct cases

<p>The Duke Cancer Center. The Duke researchers hope to shorten stays here by finding a way to curb chemotherapy resistance.</p>

The Duke Cancer Center. The Duke researchers hope to shorten stays here by finding a way to curb chemotherapy resistance.

Nearly two years after they were initially levied on research at Duke, the restrictions imposed by the National Institutes of Health are set to be lifted.

The loosening is contingent on two conditions, according to a memo by Vice President for Research Lawrence Carin obtained by Retraction Watch. The memo—sent Nov. 22 to research faculty, students and staff—indicated that the University would no longer be held to the special requirements if it continues to prioritize scientific integrity, and follows through on its corrective action plan before the start of 2020.

"Although the Special Award Conditions are removed effective immediately, we will need a short time period to work out the logistics of changing our work flow processes with the NIH," he wrote in the memo. "Additional guidance will be delivered to grant managers as soon as we have finished our discussions with the NIH." 

The restrictions took effect April 1, 2018, after a series of high-profile research misconduct cases at the University. The guidelines mandate that researchers submit more thorough itemized budgets of costs for grants exceeding $250,000. In addition, investigators would need to seek NIH approval to roll unused funds into the next budget period.

Carin cited several steps Duke has taken to place greater emphasis on scientific integrity, including establishing an Office of Research

Other initiatives he highlighted in the memo were the creation of a faculty committee to address research practices, alongside the conclusion of a review undertaken by external consultants.

"Duke has made excellent progress, with all corrective actions promised to the NIH completed, or on track for completion, by the end of this calendar year," Carin wrote in the memo.

The loosening of restrictions represents a step toward normalcy after a difficult series of consequences for Duke. In March, the University announced it would pay $112.5 million to the federal government as a settlement for a whistleblower lawsuit.

The research at the center of the lawsuit was performed by Erin Potts-Kant, formerly a researcher in the pulmonary, allergy and critical care department of Duke Health. Potts-Kant—who was recently barred from receiving federal funding—published falsified data in 39 papers. The lawsuit alleged that this data had been used to accrue more than $200 million in governmental grant funding.

Anil Potti, a former Duke professor and cancer researcher, was also found to have committed research fraud in a 2015 Office of Research Integrity report. He resigned from his post at the University but currently practices medicine at the  Cancer Center of North Dakota in Grand Forks. 

Michael Schoenfeld, vice president for public affairs and government relations at Duke, declined to comment on the memo.