In an email to NutraIngredients from a hospital bed in India after suffering his third stroke, Dr Das broke his silence on the affair to lambast the University that has publicly named and shamed him and frozen almost $900,000 in research funds slated for studies under his tutelage.
“I am sorry I have been unable to talk,” Dr Das, from UConn’s Cardiovascular Research Center, said. “I have just had a third stroke and so I have been on sick leave for the past month when everything happened.”
“I happen to be the chief”
He said the University’s 3-year investigation in conjunction with the US Office of Research Integrity was built upon a racist agenda, noting a longstanding dispute with another researcher as a likely motivation.
“UConn launched a conspiracy program against Asian Indians,” the antioxidant researcher said from India where he will remain under doctor’s orders for at least another week while he recuperates.
“There are six more Indians on their hit list. The accusations are all a bunch of lies and Indians are being framed. I happen to be the chief.”
Resveratrol on hold
University spokesperson, Chris DeFrancesco, said UConn was aware of the racism allegations but had no comment while dismissal proceedings against Dr Das were still underway. He confirmed six colleagues of Dr Das were also the subject of an inquiry.
UConn's resveratrol programme was "on hold" until the dismissal process was completed, he said, noting Dr Das was, "the biggest researcher in that area here at the university."
"But our focus now is to make sure the academic record is clear and that is why we issued the notice to the eleven journals that had published the data. It's an example of how a checking system works."
In that initial statement, the university labeled Dr Das's alleged abuse of research principles as “flagrant”.
“While we are deeply disappointed by the flagrant disregard for the University’s Code of Conduct, we are pleased the oversight systems in place were effective and worked as intended,” said Philip Austin, interim vice president for health affairs.
“We are grateful that an individual chose to do the right thing by alerting the appropriate authorities. Our findings were the result of an exhaustive investigation that, by its very nature, required considerable time to complete.”
Dr Das, via his Californian lawyer, Scott Tips, implied the 145 fabrications of Western Blot image data in the 26 papers were made on his computer by a fellow researcher involved in the ‘conspiracy’ who had access to his office.
Others defending Dr Das said alteration of Western Blot data is commonplace in academia for the sake of clarity and did not necessarily indicate foul play.
But others like Alex Schauss, PhD, senior research director at AIBMR Life Sciences, in Washington State said the report was damning of Dr Das’s research methods.
“Once or twice maybe. 26 times? That takes a special mind,” Schauss said of Dr Das’s resveratrol–cardiovascular work.
“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?”
Schauss said any health claims based on the data may also now be discounted and hinted that the primary financial sponsor of the trials, the US National Institutes of Health, may seek restitution.
The 11 journals that published the 26 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.
The statement from Dr Das’s lawyer can be found here.