UM reopens case against professor it cleared of misconduct 10 months ago

February 24, 1992|By Patricia Meisol | Patricia Meisol,Staff Writer

The University of Maryland, apparently under pressure from the National Institutes of Health's scientific integrity unit, is reopening an investigation of a professor it cleared of misconduct 10 months ago.

The professor is Gerald M. Rosen, a chemist and chairman of the department of pharmacology and toxicology at the School of Pharmacy. He was accused by a researcher in his lab of lifting data from old experiments and publishing them as new in papers financed by more than $500,000 in federal grants over the past decade.

Stephen R. Max, vice president for research and dean of the graduate school at the Baltimore-based campus, said he could neither confirm nor deny that the university is taking a second look at the matter.

But a lawyer representing the researcher, Carmen M. Arroyo, said the university notified his client that it intends to convene a new faculty committee to investigate the case and asked Dr. Arroyo to participate.

"I don't think she got a clear reason," said the lawyer, Barry Silber of Columbia. "We eagerly await a chance to go back before the committee of inquiry."

Officials at NIH's Office of Scientific Integrity have declined to comment, and it is not known what objections, if any, federal officials may have raised about the university's internal review.

But the university's action comes 10 months after OSI obtained for its own review from an internationally known specialist a copy of a paper he prepared that called into question the university's findings.

The research was commissioned by The Baltimore Sun and published in July.

At the time, the university stood firmly behind Dr. Rosen. In a prepared statement, the university said professors had examined "substantial scientific documentation" and consulted experts over a six-month period before clearing the professor.

In April, the university forwarded the case to OSI for review as required by federal regulations.

Dr. Arroyo has questioned the experts relied upon by the university, claiming that one may have had a conflict of interest and that a second lacked expertise.

When federal money is involved, OSI routinely reviews internal -- university investigations involving allegations of misconduct. Where it finds the university's conclusions unacceptable, OSI can ask the university to reopen the case. If the university refuses, OSI can conduct its own investigation.

OSI sends back a tiny fraction of the cases it reviews each year and conducts even fewer investigations of its own. Universities that fail to cooperate with OSI investigators jeopardize their federal research funds. In the case of the University of Maryland at Baltimore, that amounts to about $80 million a year.

The case began in 1990, when Dr. Arroyo told the university and the federal government that she reviewed Dr. Rosen's papers, most of which were published at Duke University Medical Center beginning in 1980, and discovered what she believed to be identical data.

She became suspicious, she said, when she tried and failed to repeat an experiment under his direction. Subsequently, she said, she received an anonymous tip that led her to the papers.

The two scientists study free radicals, fleeting compounds whose presence is recorded on a machine and which are thought to be important in the human disease process.

The evidence Dr. Arroyo used to support her charge came from a machine that measures free radicals. During experiments, the machine also picks up noise in the room as a byproduct and it shows up as the wiggly lines separating peaks and valleys on a chart.

Specialists say that the wiggly lines are like fingerprints, because the noise during each experiment is unique. Dr. Arroyo contended that the wiggly lines in some of Dr. Rosen's papers were identical, raising the question of whether the research had been done as described.

Dr. Rosen said it had been.

Dr. Arroyo's contract with the university was not renewed in the dispute, which became so heated that she was barred from conducting research on the campus. She now works for the Army's Institute of Chemical Defense laboratory in Edgewood.

Dr. Rosen's lawyer, Howard J. Schulman of Baltimore, said he was unaware of a new investigation by the university. In previous comments to The Sun, Dr. Rosen has denied using data inappropriately in science journals.

He filed suit in federal court against Dr. Arroyo in July, accusing her of engaging in a campaign to discredit him.

Dr. Rosen also sued a Sun reporter and The Baltimore Sun, charging invasion of privacy, on the day the newspaper had arranged to interview him before publishing a story. In the interview, the professor defended his work as creative science.

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