Author: By Judy Foreman, Globe Staff

Date: 02/02/1989 Page: 3

A team of Boston-based scientists that includes a Nobel laureate was cleared yesterday by the National Institutes of Health of allegations of research fraud, misconduct, manipulation of data and serious conceptual errors.

But a specially convened NIH investigatory panel said it "found significant errors of misstatement and omission, as well as lapses in scientific judgment and interlaboratory communication," in a report that described experiments on the genetic control of the immune system. In one case cited by the panel, a biochemical test "was not done, but was claimed to have been done." The panel added that the "inaccuracies and clerical errors" were "serious enough" that corrections should be made through a letter in the journal Cell, which published the original research nearly three years ago.

The long-awaited, approximately 175-page report may or may not be the end of the episode that has rocked the scientific community, in part because it involved David Baltimore, director of the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research in Cambridge and a Nobel prize-winning biologist.

Baltimore was part of a research team that included Thereza Imanishi-Kari, a pathologist at the Tufts University School of Medicine, Moema Reis, now of the Instituto Biologico in Sao Paolo, David Weaver of Boston's Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, and two others.

In letters to the researchers accompanying the report, the director of the NIH, Dr. James B. Wyngaarden, said the panel had "serious concerns" about the blood tests used in the research, "which raise questions about the reliability of these data and their interpretation."

Wyngaarden asked the researchers to submit to both the NIH and the journal Cell further clarification of questions about the research. Though the team already sent one such letter to Cell, which was published in November, that letter "does not deal with all the issues which require attention," Wyngaarden said. He said the second letter should be sent to him "prior to your sending it to the journal, so that we may review it for completeness and accuracy."

Wyngaarden added, "It appears that even though the allegations have been known to you and the other co-authors of the Cell paper at least since the spring of 1986," the researchers "never met to consider seriously the allegations or to reexamine the data to determine whether there might be some basis for the allegation. Such an analysis on the part of the paper's co- authors, followed by appropriate action to correct such errors of oversight, may well have made a full investigation unnecessary."

Baltimore said, "I feel vindicated. The documents support my original judgment that this research work would be a significant contribution to the literature." The report, he said, has "put to rest accusations of improper conduct and error."

However, in his prepared statement, Baltimore did not appear ready to accept NIH's request for a further published clarification.

"If further clarification of the paper seems warranted, we will respond appropriately, as would be the case with any scientific publication," said Baltimore. "However, we do not see that either the scientific panel's report or the 'decision memo' have identified such questions," he said, referring to an internal NIH memo. Bruce Singal, Imanishi-Kari's lawyer, said yesterday: ''We are gratified that once again, there has been no finding of any fraud or misconduct or manipulation of data. After reviews by Tufts, MIT and now NIH, Dr. Imanishi-Kari has in our view been vindicated."

The original paper became the focus of widespread press coverage about a year ago when a former graduate student in Imanishi-Kari's lab and a postdoctoral fellow testified before a congressional subcommittee, the former charging that Imanishi-Kari committed research fraud.

Their concerns were picked up by Walter Stewart and Ned Feder, two NIH scientists and self-appointed "whistle-blowers" concerned with issues of scientific fraud and misconduct.

In its report, the NIH panel said it was "unfortunate that, despite the growing challenge to the validity of their research, the co-authors apparently did not undertake a comprehensive review of their data until they met with the NIH scientific panel."

Despite the NIH report, the episode may remain unresolved because a parallel investigation has been under way by US Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), chairman of the House Commerce and Energy subcommittee on oversight and investigation.

A Dingell spokesman said yesterday that the case is "not over." While the NIH report appears "adequate as far as it goes," the spokesman said, Dingell has not decided whether to hold a further congressional hearing.

Last modified: Wed Sep 20 20:25:03 EDT 2000