A professor at the Iowa State University (ISU) resigned after admitting he falsified an AIDS research funded for millions of dollars in federal grants.
Dr. Dong-Pyou Han, an assistant professor in biomedical sciences at ISU, had added human blood to rabbit blood in research samples to make it appear that an AIDS vaccine was working in the research animals. The falsified research generated at least $19 million in funding from the National Institutes of Health, about $10 million of which was awarded after the "exciting results" were reported.
Dr. James Bradac, who helps oversee AIDS vaccine grants for the National Institutes of Health, said this is the worst case of research fraud he'd seen in his 24 years at the federal agency.
"It's difficult to pull this off and it's difficult not to be detected," Bradac said. "This went on for several years and it wasn't detected until January 2013."
According to Bradac, Han used human blood from people whose bodies had produced antibodies to HIV. The presence of these antibodies in the rabbits' blood made it appear that the vaccine was helping the animals build defenses against HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Bradac also said that Han apparently acted without the knowledge of the rest of his team.
"A large amount of what they were focusing on was flushed down because of this one guy," he said.
The rabbit-blood results were presented at various scientific meetings over several years and reported in scientific journals but raised suspicions when researchers at other institutions could not replicate the results.
Dr. Michael Cho, who led the ISU research team, was alerted in January to possible problems with his team's experiments. The research samples were examined by researchers at another university who confirmed that the samples had been spiked. Han was identified as the likely suspect in August and resigned from his university post in October after admitting responsibility.
A federal notice by the Health and Human Services Department stated that Han agreed to be banned from participating in any federally financed research for three years and not serve in any "advisory capacity" to the U.S. Public Health Service.