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article imageDuke researcher suspended, accused of lying about credentials

By Joan Firstenberg     Jul 20, 2010 in Health
Durham - Duke University's School of Medicine has suspended a researcher and three cancer studies he was supervising after administrators learned that he had overstated his academic credentials.
Duke's lead researcher, Dr. Anil Potti, has been placed on administrative leave, while the school investigates allegations that Dr. Potti falsely claimed he had been a Rhodes scholar. The New York Times reports that the controversy erupted late last week after an article in the Cancer Letter, a weekly for cancer specialists, reported that Dr. Potti, an assistant professor of medicine, had padded his resume on occasion. Then on Tuesday, a spokeswoman at Rhodes House at Oxford University confirmed that Dr. Potti had never been a recipient of the scholarship.
As word spread of Dr. Potti's behavior, the American Cancer Society suspended a five-year, $729,000 grant awarded to him to study the genetics of lung cancer.
Dr. Otis W. Brawley, chief medical officer of the Cancer Society, says they issued the grant based in part on a curriculum vitae from the physician that included a Rhodes award.
On top of this, dozens of prominent bio-statisticians and cancer researchers at Harvard, Princeton, Johns Hopkins and other academic institutions are now questioning the methodology behind the three clinical trials done by Dr. Potti and his colleagues. They have sent a letter to the director of the National Cancer Institute, asking that the Duke studies be stopped. There are two on lung cancer and one on breast cancer.
The studies used a prediction model for genetic analysis to determine which chemotherapy drugs would work best for particular cancer patients. Dr. Potti developed the prediction model with Joseph R. Nevins, a professor in molecular genetics at Duke medical school.
Experts at some medical centers said they were initially excited about the Duke researchers’ prediction model. Using that system, a physician should be able to biopsy a patient’s lung tumor, assess the activity level of its genes, and, use the prediction model to determine the most effective treatment.
But last year, two bio-statisticians at the University of Texas' M.D. Cancer Center published an article examining the Duke researchers’ data analysis, in the scientific journal Annals of Applied Science. In it, they pointed out real errors in the data which they said they were unable to reproduce. Keith Baggerly is the article's co-author, and a professor at MD Anderson,
“This list of errors is sufficiently long that we actually think this doesn’t work, and we told them that.”
The article said that the errors in Duke’s research might result in doctors assigning wrong therapies to patients, potentially putting them at risk. Unbelievably Dr. Potti and his colleagues continued their work after that after outside experts gave the green light.
But soon enough, more than two dozen bio-statisticians and oncology researchers from Stanford, Harvard, Princeton, Johns Hopkins, MD Anderson and other medical schools sent a letter to In this week’s letter to Dr. Harold E. Varmus, the director of the National Cancer Institute urging that the studies be stopped.
“Recently, published and peer-reviewed re-analyses of the work done by Potti and Nevins revealed serious errors that questioned the validity of the prediction models upon which these ongoing clinical trials are based. If the studies continued without independent verification of the research patients might be assigned to improper drug treatments, potentially exposing them to health risks."
The American Cancer Society has asked Duke to outline what steps the medical center is taking to assure the accuracy and scientific validity of the sponsored research, as well as making an official inquiry into Dr. Potti’s background.
The Cancer Society's Dr. Brawley says,
“If a person is untruthful about their training history, one has to worry that they may be untruthful about their data. Duke has an obligation to those of us who have funded their research and to the scientific community at large, which includes patients, to set the record straight.”
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