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MCG looking at changes admid reseach investigation

MCG president, Dr. Francis J. Tedesco, expects changes in the way MCG administers experiments

  Was research a shell game? - graphic
  What is research misconduct?
  Investigators asking if medical reseachers diverted funds - 08/17

Web-posted Oct. 05, 1996

By Paul Garber
Staff Writer

In the late 1980s, U.S. taxpayers paid for the upkeep of a yacht at Stanford University with funds that were supposed to go to research.

Two years ago, a prominent breast cancer researcher admitted some of his data was falsified in a study that helped determine how breast cancer is treated.

And here in Augusta, two former Medical College of Georgia scientists are under investigation amid allegations of possible criminal misconduct.

Most experts say research misconduct is rare, but the results can be devastating not only for the researchers but also to their affiliated institutions.

The Stanford case led to the resignation of its president, Dr. Donald Kennedy.

And even though charges have not been filed against the two MCG researchers - Richard L. Borison and Bruce Diamond - the MCG president, Dr. Francis J. Tedesco, expects changes in the way MCG administers experiments.

``Our whole process of handling clinical studies is being critically reviewed,'' he said. ``We have to have a method of checks and balances.''

One change Dr. Tedesco would like to see is a better means of tracking research that MCG doctors perform at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

Many researchers - including Drs. Borison and Diamond - hold posts at both institutions, making it difficult sometimes for administrators to keep track of the studies their researchers are performing.

A research committee is looking into other potential reform measures, and Dr. Tedesco would not comment further on possible changes until he sees the committee's report.

Jay Sawilowsky, attorney for Drs. Borison and Diamond, has said the researchers have done nothing wrong.

Proven cases of research misconduct at MCG are rare, said Dr. Malcolm Kling, MCG's interim vice-president for research. MCG officials have investigated three cases of research misconduct allegations at MCG in the last three years, including the Borison case.

At any given time, there are 200 active researchers at the medical college, Dr. Kling said.

In the last two years, MCG officials found researchers Frederick Garver, Dr. Xi-Liang Wang and Gloria Clayton guilty of research misconduct.

Earlier this year, an investigative committee found Dr. Garver, professor of biochemistry and molecular biology, guilty of misconduct for requesting Dr. Wang, a research technician, to remove a portion of CLL-1 hybridoma seed from the laboratory of Dr. Guy Fauget in 1992, according to a letter to Dr. Garver from Dr. Tedesco.

Dr. Wang was also convicted of research misconduct. Dr. Garver disagrees with the finding of misconduct. He said the cell sample originally belonged to him and was developed in his lab.

The investigating committee determined that even if the sample was developed in his lab, he should have requested samples directly from Dr. Fauget or had Dr. Wang ask for Dr. Fauget's permission before removing any samples from his laboratory. Dr. Garver has retired from MCG.

In 1994, Gloria Clayton, professor of adult nursing, admitted she made up subjects and data as part of a study of senior citizens during a collaboration with the Gerontology Center at the University of Georgia.

Dr. Clayton agreed not to take any federal funds for three years and to cooperate in submitting letters of correction to the publications containing the fabricated data. She is no longer affiliated with MCG.

But the Borison case is the only one among those that include allegations of criminal misconduct.

Because Drs. Borison and Diamond were affiliated with MCG and the VA Hospital, part of their research funds should have gone to those institutions to help run the labs and pay the salaries of the staff.

Investigators are looking into allegations that the money was instead diverted to private companies affiliated with Drs. Borison and Diamond, say sources close to the probe.

In a scandal that led to more stringent oversight of federal grants, Stanford University officials admitted the university billed the government for the costs of operating a yacht, a $4,000 wedding reception at the president's house, a 19th-century fruitwood commode, enlargement of the president's bed, $7,000 for sheets, two Voltaire chairs at a price of $1,500, and $400 for flowers for a dedication of the school's stables.

In the breast cancer study, federal investigators discovered that Dr. Roger Poisson, a Montreal-based oncologist, falsified data in a multi-center study that showed breast-saving lumpectomies followed by radiation treatment is a safe alternative to mastectomies in treating breast cancer.

A re-analysis of the breast cancer results determined that the findings were still valid after the falsified data were removed.

Why would a researcher commit misconduct? It's usually because of greed, ego or pressure to publish, said Lowell Greenbaum, emeritus vice president for research at MCG.

``There is a lot of pressure on scientists today,'' Dr. Greenbaum said. ``The fact that they are the first to discover something is very important.''

Researchers may falsify data to get grants or to publish data that otherwise would not be publishable, he said.

Last year, 23 researchers nationwide working on grants from the National Institutes of Health were found guilty of research misconduct and barred from future research funding by the NIH.

That's just a small fraction of the 24,998 biomedical grants and contracts worth a total of $6.2 billion NIH handed out in fiscal year 1995, said NIH spokesman Don Ralbovsky.

Dr. Borison was chairman of the Department of Psychiatry and Health Behavior before resigning in June.

What is research misconduct?

The Medical College of Georgia breaks it down into three categories: fraud, policy violations and the condoning of fraud.

Research fraud includes such acts as falsifying research data, stealing other people's data and plagiarism. Policy violations include failing to obtain proper approval for projects or failing to follow guidelines designed to protect human and animal subjects. Condoning of fraud includes failing to notify university authorities when research misconduct has occurred.

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