Bloody ethics – Elqutub’s admission

I reviewed the case of Maria Cristina Miron Elqutub from University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center (MDACC).

A view of the outside of the MD Anderson Cancer Center

Photo: Houston Chronicle

https://ori.hhs.gov/case-summary-elqutub-maria-cristina-miron

I found Ms. Elqutub’s case interesting because not only did she fabricate/falsify data in two published papers and two grants, but she used her own blood samples to do it.  Her research was related to a human cancer genetics study on salivary gland carcinoma.

The punishments for this ethics violation included that Ms. Elqutub’s research must be supervised for three years, that her employment institution must certify her applications for funding, or publications  are accurate, the retraction of PLoS One 10(6):e0128753, 2015 Jun2, and she voluntarily exclude herself from service, advisory roles, committee participation and consulting with any PHS entities for three years.

Ms. Elqutub’s settlement agreement referenced above will expire on April 26, 2021, however it appears the ethics violation has had a permanent impact on her career.  When I could not find her on the MDACC website, a google searched resulted in articles from Houston Chronical

 https://www.houstonchronicle.com/news/houston-texas/houston/article/MD-Anderson-research-assistant-subbed-in-her-12917536.php

and Science Alert

https://www.sciencealert.com/texas-cancer-researcher-caught-using-own-blood-100-samples-elqutub-retraction-salivary-gland-carcinoma

that she is no  longer employed by MDACC but is currently working as a middle school nurse.

What is curious, to me, about this case is what made it “worth-it” to knowingly commit such a serious ethics violation?  While Elqutub didn’t have an advanced degree, she was part of a strong research group at one of the highest regarded medical institutions in the US, a presumably great job; not a position you would think would be worth risking.  Until she is interviewed I suppose we’ll never know why she did it.

 

4 Replies to “Bloody ethics – Elqutub’s admission”

  1. I glanced through this case study as well and found it interesting that she used her own blood. But then again, it actually makes sense since her blood is the most accessible and she is willing to provide it.

  2. Thank you so much for you blog, I enjoyed reading about the case and your thoughts surrounding the case. The title of your blog pulled me in to read it, and I have to say, I am a little creeped out to find that she used her own blood. I understand being so engrossed in your work you want to put your all into it, however, I feel that there is a line and putting your literal blood in the mix, crosses it. Really takes the phrase “putting your blood, sweat, and tears into it” to a whole new level.

    Your point about her working as a nurse at a school now popped out to me, the woman I studied for this assignment also now works at a school. However, she is teaching science. I wonder how they are liking this setting opposed to a clinical researching setting. I wonder if they have regrets or truly like the setting they are in now and are thankful to be where they are.

    I also resonated with your point about is it “worth-it” to commit fraud in your work. I feel that getting into medical school and doing the kind of research they are doing is such a privilege. Only the few get into medical school and can truly help to cure diseases. It is hard for me to understand why they would be willing to jeopardize it. However, I do not compete for funding or grant money so I do not know the demands of the field and the pressure they are under. Nevertheless, if it is this common, I feel that we need to evaluate what practices this field is doing and teaching to try to figure out a better solution. Though, I know it is easier said than done. I wonder if any institution has done an exit interview of sorts and asked what caused them to commit fraud and with permission, somehow have a seminar or talk with incoming researchers about the actual consequences of choosing to fraud in your work.

  3. After reading your post, I remember “Elizabeth Holmes”, she received the “Under 30 Doers” Award from Forbes and ranked on its 2015 list of the “Most Powerful Women”. Now her Blood-testing company Theranos will dissolve.

  4. It is really surprising that she thought of using her own blood. This means she was super desperate to falsify and fabricate the data. I am not sure what was the reason behind this step but it’s not hard to believe that some kind of incentive, money, fame or pressure forced her to throw away her job like this.

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