Duke University agreed to a deal Monday that will require it to repay the federal government $112.5 million to settle claims it falsified scientific research at taxpayers’ expense.
The prestigious private school in Durham, North Carolina, said it will take additional steps on “research integrity” and says it already has implemented more monitoring of research in the wake of the scandal, which involved a health researcher and her supervisors.
A whistleblower said Duke falsified research on nearly $200 million worth of grants, and he will collect nearly $34 million for his role in uncovering the fraud, which prosecutors said spanned from 2006 to 2018 and involved money from the National Institutes of Health and the Environmental Protection Agency.
The chief researcher at the center of the scandal, Erin Potts-Kant, had more than a dozen papers stemming from her work on mice retracted. Prosecutors said the school’s higher-ups knew about her fraudulent research but allowed it to continue. The school had contended it didn’t learn until later.
“Individuals and institutions that receive research funding from the federal government must be scrupulous in conducting research for the common good and rigorous in rooting out fraud,” said Matthew G.T. Martin, the U.S. attorney for the Middle District of North Carolina. “May this serve as a lesson that the use of false or fabricated data in grant applications or reports is completely unacceptable.”
Duke didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment, but appeared to take some responsibility for what went wrong.
“This is a difficult moment for Duke,” Vincent Price, the school president, wrote in an email to the Duke community, according to the Duke Chronicle. “This case demonstrates the devastating impact of research fraud and reinforces the need for all of us to have a focused commitment on promoting research integrity and accountability.”
The whistleblower, former Duke employee Joseph Thomas, will get $33.75 million from the settlement, the federal government said.
Duke is dealing with a different research scandal dating back more than a decade, The Associated Press reported.
Duke medical professor Anil Potti engaged in misconduct while researching treatments in human cancer patients. Mr. Potti’s studies were published in top medical journals, including the New England Journal of Medicine and Lancet Oncology between 2006 and 2009.
In a settlement reached with the federal health agency, Mr. Potti did not acknowledge liability but agreed to have all his research supervised until 2020. Mr. Potti left Duke in 2010. Duke settled lawsuits brought by patients and estates of patients who participated in those medical trials.
As a result of both cases, the National Institutes of Health last year required Duke University researchers to increase their reporting of how federal grant money was being spent.