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Researcher admits tampering with data.

Researcher Admits Tampering With Data

A medical researcher told SCIENCE NEWS this week that he tampered with data from experiments he helped perform at Harvard University's Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. "That's correct," Claudio Milanese said in a telephone interview from Turin, Italy, when asked if he had tampered with the data. Milanese recently returned to the University of Turin after a three-year appointment as a visiting Fellow at Dana-Farber.

"I'm trying to forget this thing as soon as possible," Milanese said in the interview.

In a letter to Dana-Farber officials, Milanese admitted that he tampered with the results, Dana-Farber President Baruj Benacerraf told SCIENCE NEWS. The researcher's admission prompted a written retraction last week of a published report of the experimental results, which purported to include the discovery of a molecule that plays a crucial role in stimulating the immune system. In the retraction letter, published in the Nov. 28 SCIENCE, the three authors write that the molecule, "interleukin-4A," which was reported in the March 7, 1986, SCIENCE, does not exist.

The retraction followed unsuccessful attempts in recent weeks to replicate results reported by Milanese, who authored the March 7 paper along with Dana-Farber's Ellis L. Reinherz and Neil E. Richardson. After his Harvard colleagues notified him of their problems, Milanese, who had already returned to Turin, responded with a letter, which, Benacerraf says, "is in our possession."

In the letter, according to Benacerraf, "the type of admission that have been made" involve "having added some reagents to a [test] tube, without the knowledge of other researchers, to make it appear as though something happened [in the experiment] that did not." Benacerraf said in the telephone interview that he considers the nature of the admission to involve "tampering" rather than "fabrication" of an entire experiment.

In his telephone conversation with SCIENCE NEWS, Milanese would not comment specifically on how he manipulated the results. "I don't want to say anything about that," he said. But when informed of Benacerraf's statement that Milanese had tampered with the data, Milanese responded: "That's correct.... Whatever they [Dana-Farber officials] are saying is [correct]."

Benacerraf says a five-person investigating committee, with members from the institute, Harvard and MIT, has begun to probe the matter. The committee, he says, "will investigate this [incident] and anything [research] this individual has had any remote contact with, as to its authenticity."

In their March 7 paper, Milanese, Reinherz and Richardson reported they had identified a molecule that stimulates resting T lymphocytes, the major class of white blood cells responsible for cell-mediated immunity. The authors reported that the molecule, interleukin-4A, also induced the production of receptors for interleukin-2, which has had preliminary, promising results in the treatment of a limited number of human cancer patients and may hold possibilities in the treatment of AIDS (SN:12/7/85, p.359).

The Nov. 28 letter is the first published retraction of original data in SCIENCE in about the last 25 years, according to a spokesperson for the journal. In their letter, the three authors write, "In our view, those biological data are not reproducible and are incorrect, and we wish, therefore, to retract the data and the conclusions based on them." Indeed, they write that the reported molecule "with the functional attributes described in that publication" does not exist. They add that a second paper on the subject, published this year in the June 1986 JOURNAL OF EXPERIMENTAL MEDICINE (Vol. 163, No. 6), "is similarly being withdrawn."

Finally, the three authors conclude: "We extend our apologies to the scientific community and trust that certain misinformation presented in that article can be rectified by publication of this retraction letter." Reinherz told SCIENCE NEWS, "I certainly have my views on it [the experiment and retraction] but it's not appropriate for me to comment on it at this time."
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Title Annotation:Claudio Milanese, Harvard University's Dana-Farber Cancer Institute
Author:Greenberg, Joel
Publication:Science News
Date:Nov 29, 1986
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