Health study falsified data, agency concludes Hopkins biochemist loses federal grant

June 05, 1996|By David Folkenflik | David Folkenflik,SUN STAFF

A Johns Hopkins University biochemist has been found guilty by a federal agency of scientific misconduct for faking data to win a $1 million government-sponsored research project and submitting false information in seeking more money for a second grant.

Michael W. Washabaugh, an associate professor in Hopkins' School of Hygiene and Public Health, was cited for "reporting falsified and/or fabricating research data in two grant applications" submitted to the National Institutes of Health. The NIH is a government health research agency based in Bethesda.

"It's the most grievous thing you can do in science, really," said Adil E. Shamoo, a professor of biochemistry at the University of Maryland at Baltimore who is the editor of the journal Accountability in Research.

The Office of Research Integrity -- which, like the NIH, is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services -- posted its findings in the Federal Register on May 15.

Washabaugh, 38, did not return telephone messages seeking comment.

Hopkins spokeswoman Lisbeth Pettengill also declined to comment, saying any such information would be part of a faculty member's personnel file.

Federal officials said the governmental review was sparked by a Hopkins inquiry into allegations against Washabaugh.

"Johns Hopkins was very cooperative with ORI in resolving this matter," said Chris B. Pascal, acting director of the research integrity office.

In 1993, the researcher applied for, and ultimately received, a grant from the NIH worth about $1 million over four years for a project titled "Mechanisms of enzymic and nonenzymic thiamin reactions."

In 1995, Washabaugh applied for money for a second, related project also focusing on enzymes and proteins.

When questions were raised about the data he submitted to the NIH for that grant last year, Hopkins officials withdrew the application for the grant and reviewed Washabaugh's work. Their inquiry served as the basis for the federal integrity office's findings, and the initial grant was revoked, Pascal said.

Washabaugh "reported falsified and/or fabricated portions of data presented in two separate figures to support his hypothesis," the Federal Register notice read.

Because Washabaugh does not have tenure at Hopkins, his position is particularly tenuous. Academic misconduct also can be grounds for revoking tenure or employment.

Traditionally, pressure on Hopkins researchers to win grants is acute: The public health school is heavily dependent upon research grants for its budget from year to year.

For fiscal year 1996, which concludes June 30, the school received $110 million in research contracts and grants; the school's entire budget was $150 million.

Under terms of an agreement accepted by Washabaugh, the researcher is barred for four years from receiving any grants or contracts from any federal agency or serving in any advisory capacity to the federal Public Health Service.

,.33l Washabaugh graduated with a bachelor's of science in chemistry from the University of Michigan, and earned his doctorate in biochemistry from Johns Hopkins in 1986. He took a two-year post-doctorate fellowship at Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass., before returning to Baltimore in 1988 with an appointment as an assistant professor.

He was promoted to associate professor in 1993. Washabaugh holds a secondary appointment in the department of environmental health sciences, which also is in the public health school.

Pub Date: 6/05/96

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