For almost a year, accusations have slowly mounted against Duke cancer researcher Dr. Anil Potti. First, questions were raised about his scientific discoveries. Then, a cancer research newsletter pointed out problems with his resume, drawing new scrutiny to his work.
Now, a Duke investigation led by Provost Peter Lange has found “issues of substantial concern” in Potti’s resume and biographical sketches, and both internal and external investigations into Potti’s research are being planned, according to a Duke News release issued Friday.
“A final decision about Dr. Potti’s future status as a Duke employee and faculty member will also be informed by the results of the research misconduct inquiry and the independent external evaluation of the science,” the release said. “Until such time, he will remain on administrative leave from his research, teaching and clinical responsibilities.”
The provost later confirmed that the administrative leave is paid.
Lange and Michael Schoenfeld, vice president for public affairs and government relations, declined to describe the “issues of substantial concern” in information Potti provided in resumes and biographical sketches.
However, The Chronicle has confirmed several inaccuracies in Potti’s resume, some of which were first reported in The Cancer Letter.
Potti did not respond to repeated requests for comment from The Chronicle.
Examining the resume
Of all the pieces of Potti’s resume, the line that has received the most attention is his claim to have been a Rhodes Scholar “Australia” or “Australian Board” in 1995 or 1996, depending on the resume. Potti was also identified as a Rhodes Scholar in a profile in the January/February 2007 issue of GenomeLIFE, published by Duke’s Institute for Genome Sciences and Policy.
But Potti was never a Rhodes Scholar, a spokesperson for the Rhodes Trust wrote in an e-mail.
In three of Potti’s biographical sketches, he claims to have received an award from the Cure for Lymphoma and Lymphoma Research Foundation in 2001. The sketches were first obtained and published by The Cancer Letter.
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A Lymphoma Research Foundation spokeswoman said the organization’s records do not show that Potti received an award from either organization. In 2001, the Cure For Lymphoma Foundation and the Lymphoma Research Foundation of America joined together and became the Lymphoma Research Foundation.
Potti also claimed to have received an award from the American Society of Hematology in 1999, but an organization spokesman said there was no record of Potti receiving an award. However, the spokesman added that record keeping for awards was not as accurate during that time.
There are also inconsistencies with an award Potti said he received from the American Society of Clinical Oncology in 1998. In two of his biographical sketches, he refers to it as a “Merit Award” and in another, as a “Travel Award.”
Yet, according to The Cancer Letter, ASCO has no records of Potti winning either a Merit or Travel award in 1998. He did receive a Travel Award in 2005 and a Merit Award in 2006.
Potti also states in one of his biographical sketches that Dr. Gordon McLaren was his “mentor” during a research fellowship at Queensland Research Institute in Australia.
The “Queensland Research Institute” does not exist—only the Queensland Institute for Medical Research, which told The Cancer Letter that Potti had never been employed there.
McLaren, who is now an adjunct professor in the medical school at University of California, Irvine, told The Chronicle he did not work with Potti during McLaren’s time at Queensland from 1994 to 1995.
McLaren added that he met Potti in the late 1990’s when both were employed at the University of North Dakota School of Medicine. McLaren said he helped Potti with several of his scientific abstracts in 1998.
“It’s not unreasonable to say that I had been a mentor, it might be a little bit more than I really was, but it would not be unreasonable,” McLaren said.
He said he does not feel any ill will toward Potti for incorrectly referencing him in his resume.
“My main concern is the damaging effect these inaccuracies in his resume will have on his career,” he said.
“Element of trust”
The University has not released the resume Potti provided when he applied to work at Duke, and Lange declined to comment on why the “issues of substantial concern” in that document were not identified when Potti came to Duke in 2003.
“In terms of faculty, [hiring] is a very thorough and rigourous process and involves extensive checking of references, conversations with people who worked with faculty members and reviewing work they do,” Schoenfeld said.
He added that it is still too early to consider changing the hiring process for faculty and Duke will wait until the investigations of Potti’s science are finished to decide whether to adjust the process.
“In any hiring situation, there is a strong element of trust and that’s something any institution has to deal with,” Schoenfeld said. “There’s always a possibility that some item is not accurate.”