Misconduct Alleged in Major Genetics Lab

WASHINGTON--In a major embarrassment for the genome program, its leader Francis Collins has found it necessary to withdraw all or part of five scientific articles on leukemia research in which he took part because of alleged data fabrication by a colleague. The apparent fraud, reported on 29 October in the Chicago Tribune, is now under investigation by federal and academic authorities.

Collins, director of the National Center for Human Genome Research (NCHGR) at the National Institutes of Health, informed colleagues in a letter dated 1 October that false data had turned up in an unpublished manuscript and a paper co-authored by himself and a former member of his laboratory at NCHGR.

According to the letter, a copy of which ScienceNOW has obtained, "a careful reviewer raised concerns about the specifics of some of the data in a manuscript which was under review." When confronted with these and other data problems, the individual "confessed to a stunning series of data misrepresentations and outright fabrications, extending over a period of at least two years," Collins writes.  As a result, Collins decided to withdraw genetic studies on proteins linked to acute myeloid leukemia, including articles published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Genomics, Molecular and Cellular Biology, and Genes, Chromosomes & Cancer.

Collins was out of town and unavailable for comment. But his letter expresses a "profound sense of regret" as well as "shock and outrage at these events." It notes that "many will wonder whether I as the research mentor was paying sufficient attention to this individual." His response: "Even in retrospect, I am not sure how these deceptions could have been uncovered sooner." And he promises to do "everything possible to correct the scientific record by publishing retractions quickly. "