Dr Das has refuted the allegations stemming from a three-year investigation, blaming fellow researchers who had access to his computer for the data fabrication, along with professional jealousy, and a racist conspiracy against him due to his east Indian origins.
He has been suspended from his role as the director of the University of Connecticut’s Cardiovascular Research Center. The University has suspended about $900,000 in ongoing research funding to Dr Das’ research programmes, leaving much of nutrition academia aghast at the scale of the allegations.
Hand on your heart?
“Once or twice maybe. 26 times? That takes a special mind,” said long-time researcher, Alex Schauss, PhD, senior research director at AIBMR Life Sciences, in Washington State.
“The really puzzling thing about this is that Dr Das was one of the world’s great red wine and resveratrol researchers. He had an illustrious tenure at the Uni of Connecticut. Why would you jeopardise that? I just don’t understand the motivation.”
“Of course it can be a pressure cooker in research, to produce results to win funding, but a man in Dr Das’s position, and especially in resveratrol where there has been a lot of variance in data, what do you stand to lose by reporting inconsistent data?”
Dr Schauss did not buy Dr Das’s defence that his computer had been accessed by fellow researchers who doctored the Western Blot data it contained about the antioxidant that some research has shown to have cardiovascular and other benefits.
“It is his responsibility as lead researcher to closely scrutinise the data, I know I spend hours going through every single page to ensure the data stands up so if the data was being fabricated by someone else, why did he not notice it?”
Western Blot alteration is not atypical
Others jumped to Dr Das’s defence. Bill Sardi, a managing partner at Resveratrol Partners, the Las Vegas-based supplement manufacturer whose products featured in some of the disputed studies, said he was with 65-year-old Dr Das at a Kolcatta conference in India last week when the news broke.
He said Dr Das was devastated the university had “blind-sided” him by going public with the results of the investigation before contacting him, and particularly at a time when he was incommunicado.
Das told Sardi that altering Western Blot data images was common practice.
“[He said] editors at scientific publications commonly request researchers enhance faded images of Western Blot tests so they can be duplicated in their publications,” Sardi said.
“Western Blot tests are frequently altered to remove backgrounds, enhance contrast and increase dots-per-inch resolution so they are suitable for publication. This had been fully explained to university officials long before.”
He added his company never paid money to have its supplements used in any studies under Dr DasSardi and that Dr Das was being 'fingered' by the University of Connecticut.
Sardi said Dr Das would be in India and out of contact for 3-4 weeks.
What further actions will be taken against Dr Das are yet to be determined but the key funder of much of the research, the US National Institutes of Health, may seek restitution, and the University of Connecticut seems certain to sack Dr Das.
Dr Schauss said the issue was going to be debated for some time. “We need to understand the scope of the problem.”
“We did a thorough search of our database to make sure none of the papers implicated in this are related to any Food and Drug Administration (FDA) structure-function claims. There weren’t but it may be that the FDA needs to be notified about this too.”
The 11 journals that published the26 papers were:
· American Journal of Physiology – Heart & Circulatory
- Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry
- Antioxidants & Redox Signaling
- Cellular Physiology & Biochemistry
- Free Radical Biology
- Free Radical Research
- Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry
- Journal of Cellular & Molecular Medicine
- Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics
- Molecular & Cellular Cardiology
- Molecular & Cellular Chemistry
A summary of the investigation findings can be found here.