(NaturalNews) The University of New South Wales (UNSW) is back in the news after one of its own research scientists was pinned recently for potentially publishing fraudulent research data on a new skin cancer drug he developed. As reported by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC News), clinical trials for DZ13, an experimental skin cancer drug created by UNSW Professor Levon Khachigian, have been put on hold pending an investigation into a series of published studies that allegedly contain doctored or misleading diagrams.
Back in 2009, one of Khachigian's colleagues, Prof. David Vaux, discovered some anomalies with a few of Khachigian's published papers, prompting him to contact and warn the school. These anomalies included things like duplicate and altered images that used the same data sets to represent multiple conditions, a major blunder. The assumption, of course, was that this and other errors may have possibly been intended to make DZ13 appear safer and more effective than it actually is at treating skin cancer.
According to ABC News, Vaux notified the school twice about the apparently fraudulent images, and roughly one year later, Khachigian voluntarily retracted three of his papers. At the time, Khachigian claimed that the duplicate images in his studies were a genuine error, implying that the incident was isolated and would not happen again.
But earlier this year, Vaux came across yet more errors of a similar nature, this time in a paper by Khachigian that actually recommended DZ13 for administration in cancer patients. Since patient safety would now be at risk, Vaux sent another urgent letter to the school calling for an investigation, as patients would soon be receiving injections of a drug for which the safety data did not appear accurate. And this time, his concerns were heard.
"I believe it would be important to act quickly, as patients may currently be receiving the agent described in the publication, DZ13, as part of a clinical trial," wrote Vaux in a letter to both the Vice President and the Vice Chancellor of UNSW. "If the results in this paper are not genuine, the Human Research Ethics Committee that approved the trial might have been misled, and the patients receiving the drug might not have been able to give properly informed consent."
Khachigian's own former colleague says studies on DZ13 were conducted improperly
And Vaux was not the only one of esteem to discover such errors. Dr. Ying Morgan, a scientist who actually worked on the original research alongside Khachigian, told the media that some of the experiments carried out on DZ13 were not performed honestly and that their results were misrepresented. These allegations were initially rejected by UNSW, but now the school appears to be taking the situation a little bit more seriously.
"I think that anybody who has concerns of scientific misconduct, there's an ethical responsibility for them to raise those concerns with either the designated person to receive allegations of misconduct or with the journal editors or with the authors of the paper," Prof. Vaux is quoted as saying to reporters about his decision to call for the review.
Though Khachigian denies that any of the findings in his studies are flawed, the evidence appears to be stacked against him. As posted on Retraction Watch, images taken from Khachigian's studies reveal clear duplications and obvious manipulations, for instance, neither of which just happen randomly or on accident. Based on this, it appears as though Khachigian may potentially be guilty of foul play.
"It would be great if Australia had an office for research and integrity and an ombudsman for integrity, so any scientist who had any sort of concern or anybody reading a paper in any country in the world who saw something that they had concerns about ... could have some place that could in an independent way find out what's really going on," says Vaux, as quoted by ABC News.
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