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Former researcher punished for fraud

By Daniel C. Stevenson

When a federal agency found a researcher formerly associated with MIT guilty of 19 charges of scientific misconduct, it was only the latest development in a 10-year-old controversy surrounding former Assistant Professor of Biology Thereza Imanishi-Kari.

Imanishi-Kari "deliberately falsified research and then covered up her initial scientific misconduct with additional falsifications when the original data were challenged," according to a statement released by the Department of Health and Human Services.

Imanishi-Kari was charged with fabricating data used in a paper published in the April 25, 1986 issue of Cell, in a letter of correction published in Cell soon after, and in two grant applications to the National Institutes of Health.

At the time of the work in question, Imanishi-Kari was working under Professor of Biology David Baltimore '61 at the Center for Cancer Research. Baltimore left MIT to become president of Rockefeller University, and returned to the Institute last spring.

Baltimore stepped down from the Rockefeller presidency after the NIH released a report in 1991 concluding Imanishi-Kari's data had been faked. Many observers believed that the controversy forced him to resign from the position.

Baltimore, a Nobel laureate, was one of the paper's co-authors and had staunchly defended the paper since its publication. However, he and the other co-authors retracted the paper in the spring of 1991, when the NIH concluded that the data had been falsified.

Baltimore was not accused of fraud himself, but has been criticized for not reviewing the case. In the 1991 NIH report, investigators called his continued defense of the article "extraordinary" and "difficult to comprehend."

In an interview last December, Baltimore said he did not believe that "Imanishi-Kari actually did the things that are charged in the report."

The Cell article reported experiments on laboratory mice that seemed to indicate that the introduction of foreign genes into an animal could lead to the expression of related genes within the animal, a topic which the biology community is still debating.

With the current charges, Imanishi-Kari may not receive federal grants or contract money, or participate in cooperative agreements, for 10 years. She has appealed the decision.

Federal funding pays for about 93 percent of the biology research done at the Institute, said Professor of Biology Phillip A. Sharp, the department head.

By not allowing her to perform federally-funded work, the NIH would be excluding Imanishi-Kari "from doing significant, skilled research," Sharp said.