Breaking news: lawsuit filed against Duke for fraudulent cancer study

Tuesday, September 13, 2011 by: S. L. Baker, features writer
Tags: cancer study, fraud, health news

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(NaturalNews) Last fall, Dr. Anil Potti resigned from his position at Duke's Institute for Genome Sciences and Policy and the School of Medicine. He wasn't leaving to move on to another high profile job. Instead, he had been busted -- big time.

It turns out Potti had falsified part of his resume to help him get hundreds of thousands of dollars of grant money. But far worse, the scientist had also been less than honest about his research. Three clinical trials were underway based on his bogus "findings" when Duke finally suspended the trials and Potti was forced out, resigning but not really admitting any wrongdoing.

According to an article that appeared last fall in Duke's newspaper "The Chronicle," Potti's resignation letter did not spell out a specific admission of research misconduct although the discredited scientist did take "full responsibility for a series of anomalies in data handling, analysis and management that have come under scrutiny in the past months."

Dr. Michael Cuffe, DUHS (Duke University Health System) vice president for medical affairs said at the time, "Our focus is on the patients. These trials should not have been done."

But shockingly, one of those studies was continued using a cancer "treatment" based on Potti's flaky research findings even after red flags were raised by other medical experts. Now some of the research subjects (those who didn't die) and the families of dead study participants are suing over the matter, claiming Duke officials knew there was something seriously fishy about both Potti's supposed research and that of his co-researcher Joseph Nevins, a cancer geneticist who was director of Duke's Center for Applied Genomics & Technology.

In all, a dozen people have come forward and joined together to file a lawsuit in a North Carolina Court against Duke University and a list of administrators, researchers, and physicians. The plaintiffs claim Duke researchers were engaged in fraudulent and negligent behavior when they set up a clinical trial using cancer patients because they knew the study was already compromised due to faulty (and possibly totally bogus) data.

The just filed lawsuit claims Duke officials were well aware that the work of Potti and Nevins was "embellished" but a clinical trial involving people suffering from lung cancer was launched based on Potti and Nevins highly suspect data anyway.

The study in question gave patients supposedly potentially helpful treatments for their cancerous lung tumors. But the "therapies" were based on gene expression patterns that Potti and Nevins claimed they had identified in tumor cells -- research discredited as, in simple non-scientific terms, a lot of B.S. In fact, over the past year, a long list of scientific, published papers co-authored by Potti and Nevins has been retracted after the truth about their so-called "scientific data" was uncovered.

"In May 2007, after being placed on notice of the flawed science underlying its cancer studies as referenced above, Duke University and DUHS began their first clinical trial," the lawsuit states. The lawsuit points out researchers from outside of Duke, namely two biostatisticians at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas, had expressed concerns about the trial and tried to warn the University about proceeding. But Duke did nothing.

The lawsuit claims Duke's response "to the accusation of invalid and fraudulent science was deceptive, misleading, and fraudulent conduct designed to protect its reputation and proprietary interests rather than protecting the safety of the patients involved in the clinical trials."

Bottom line: did the study based on invalid science end up killing people in the trial? The plaintiffs are charging it probably did. "This reduced the Plaintiffs likelihood of surviving his/her cancer or the likelihood of experiencing a positive response to the chemotherapy regimen," the lawsuit reads.

The plaintiffs are asking for a minimum of $30,000 each in damages and they also want a trial by jury. If they get a jury trial, it could be extremely embarrassing to those at Duke who gave permission for the cancer trial to get underway in the first place. Duke University's reaction so far? "No comment."

And where is Anil Potti these days? He has a web site that sings his praises as an oncologist and researcher who cares deeply about his patients. It reveals he is located somewhere "in the United States" and skips over the details of his troubling past at Duke.

In fact, the web site offers a glowing description of his work there, including this: "During his time at Duke, he had a special interest in taking care of patients with lung cancer and contributed to the development of several programs in cancer."

There's no mention that Potti's past includes stretching the truth not only about his research findings but about his credentials. According to a report in Duke's "The Chronicle," Potti was investigated for fraud because he falsely claimed to be a Rhodes Scholar on an application for a $729,000 grant from the American Cancer Society.

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