The Strange Case of Dr. Potti

The case of Dr. Anil Potti is probably one of the most high-profile research integrity cases recently (it even made it onto 60 Minutes!). In 2006, when Dr. Potti was an Associate Professor at the medical school at Duke University, he claimed to have found a way to customize cancer treatments based on specific genetic markers. The clinical trials were halted for a time when others were unable to replicate the results of his original studies. However, outside reviewers found no evidence of misconduct, so the trials were allowed to continue. Then questions arose about an inconsistency in Dr. Potti’s resume, and it was revealed that one of his medical students had raised concerns about the research. In response to the controversy, Dr. Potti resigned his position at Duke in 2010.

This year, finally, the Office of Research Integrity (ORI) made a ruling about Dr. Potti’s case, and it was found that he had grossly falsified data in his grant applications and published papers. For example, in one grant he claimed that 6 out of 33 people in a trial responded to a treatment. However, that trial had only 4 people enrolled total. In another paper, he changed the result for more than half of the samples reported. At least 9 published papers have been retracted, and the total could be as many as 27 (I had trouble finding an accurate number). Duke has also settled with the families of eight of Dr. Potti’s former patients, who sued the school.

Yet, in all of this, Dr. Potti has never admitted wrongdoing and, instead, entered into a Voluntary Settlement Agreement with ORI. For five years, he is required to be supervised when working on research funded by the US Public Health Services (PHS) and cannot serve as an advisor to PHS. However, he has not done PHS-funded research since 2010 and states that he has no intention of doing it again. So, essentially, this “punishment” means absolutely nothing to him. Yes, there is now a black mark of research misconduct on his record, but he retains his medical license and, as of right now, his job as a practicing oncologist. Could ORI have done more? Probably not. They have no power over anything except their own funding. However, maybe this kind of gross misconduct should affect his medical license, since he was acting, not just as a researcher, but also as a medical doctor when conducting these trials.

One thought on “The Strange Case of Dr. Potti”

  1. It’s absolutely crazy that this was able to go on for so long, and he only got a slap on the wrist. Also why wasn’t he held responsible for all of the funding he received under false pretenses?

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