Harvard teaching hospital to face research fraud trial

By Rebecca Trager

A whistleblower claim alleging research fraud by Harvard Medical School’s teaching hospital will proceed to trial, US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit ruled on 7 May.

The case, which the National Whistleblowers Center (NWC) called “a resounding reversal,” involves one of the largest Alzheimer’s disease research grants awarded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

The chief statistician for the NIH grant, Kenneth Jones, alleged fraud after realising that measurements used to demonstrate the reliability of the study had been quietly altered, according to the NWC. These changes made it erroneously appear that there was statistical significance to the study’s major findings.

“After Dr. Jones insisted that the altered measurements be subjected to a reliability study and that the results could not be presented as part of a $15 million federal grant extension application, he was terminated and his career came to an end,” the NWC explained in an 8 May statement.

The First Circuit overturned a lower court decision, finding that it had failed to consider substantial evidence of fraud.

“This is a major breakthrough holding universities accountable for the integrity of reported research results,” said Michael Kohn, one of the lead attorneys for Jones. “Fraud committed in order to obtain NIH funding not only robs taxpayers but also sets back long-term medical research goals.”

Kohn, who also serves as the NWC’s president, noted that the facts of this case indicate that the report of false data misdirected research efforts at other institutions.

Although the main defendant in the case is Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard’s largest teaching hospital, Kohn suggests that Harvard Medical School is a potential defendant. He notes that the principal investigator on the NIH grant, Marilyn Albert, was a Harvard professor at the time the grant was awarded.

This article was published in Research Professional, the UK’s leading independent source of news, analysis, funding opportunities and jobs for the academic research community.

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