High-profile cancer researcher Anil Potti is accused of falsely claiming to be a Rhodes Scholar.
The Duke scientist, an associate professor of medicine, claimed to have won a number of prestigious prizes that he never actually received—including the Rhodes Scholarship—according to The Cancer Letter, a newsletter concerned with cancer research. A spokesman for the Rhodes Trust confirmed that the organization has no record of Potti having won a Rhodes Scholarship, wrote Paul Goldberg, Trinity ’81 and the author of the article.
Potti cited the Rhodes Scholarship in a number of resumes and forms, including an application to the American Cancer Society for a $729,000 grant he ultimately received. The University has placed Potti on administrative leave while it conducts its investigation of the claims.
"Duke is aware of the allegations raised in the article regarding Dr. Potti and has instituted a formal internal investigation," said Doug Stokke, assistant vice president of communications for the Duke University Health System, to The (Raleigh) News and Observer Friday. "Dr. Potti has been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation."
Goldberg said he sent an e-mail to Potti, members of the Duke administration, and Potti’s collaborator Joseph Nevins, director for the Center for Applied Genomics and Technology, to request interviews. Potti responded to the initial e-mail in which he copied everyone on the message, but beyond a brief message neither Potti nor Duke officials responded to further requests for interviews, according to the article.
“Sounds like I need to call him to clarify ...... and probably also talk with you all to clarify,” Potti responded to everyone included on the e-mail thread, according to The Cancer Letter. “I was a nominee..... and several of the others can also be explained. –Anil.”
Even before the most recent accusations, Potti had been involved in controversy in the scientific community since arriving at Duke in 2003. Potti and Nevins had some of their findings published by Nature Medicine concerning “personalized medicine,” and the idea that “microarray analysis of paitient tumors could be used to predict response to chemotherapy,” according to The Cancer Letter. But when two statisticians, Keith Baggerly and Kevin Coombes, reviewed the work for approximately 1,500 hours, they identified a series of errors that undermined the published work.
“Unfortunately, poor documentation can shift from an inconvenience to an active danger when it obscures not just methods but errors,” the statisticians wrote in a paper on the findings. “Patients in clinical trials are currently being allocated to treatment arms on the basis of these results.”
The University conducted an internal investigation of the study, eventually concluding that “the approaches used by the Duke clinical predictors are viable and likely to succeed”—in other words deeming the research legitimate. Baggerly and Coombes were critical of the University’s investigation, however. They believed that a statement signed by Michael Cuffe, vice president for medical affairs for DUHS, and Sally Kornbluth, vice dean for research, misrepresented the committee’s findings. The names of the committee’s members that reviewed the findings were not released.
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