Ethics Case Study-Bijan Ahvazi

To understand a little more about ethics and research misconduct I will be discussing the case study of Dr. Bijan Ahvazi, a former Director of the Laboratory of X-ray Crystallography at the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal Skin Diseases (NIAMS).  The Office of Research Integrity found that Dr. Ahvazi engaged in research misconduct by falsifying data related to or in a number of publications.  More specifically, the ORI found that he falsely labeled certain figures, relabeling older versions of unrelated experiments.  The experiments involved isothermal titration calorimetry, and for everyone not familiar with this technique basically ITC is used for studying the binding of small molecules (medicinal compounds, small ligands, etc.) to larger macromolecules like DNA or proteins.

I am shocked at how one actually and willingly uses previous work that is unrelated and relabels that as new.  It is so important to stay on top of this and not allow such complacency and laziness occur, especially with experiments like this.  This is a fairly straight forward assay, using a machine with different chambers for sample and ligand, and measures heat and temp as ligand and protein bind.  This researcher most definitely could have ran the experiment with correct samples and not be so complacent and change previous work to match the present findings he was hoping to study.

And in this case study the falsification of data didn’t just stem from relabeling prior work.  Dr. Ahvazi also added multiple points and deleted outliers in the titration curve, literally making the result he wanted to make.  This falsifying data enables one to receive the outcome they want from the work, which is not how Science works.  What drives me in research is the unknown an even though sometimes its taxing, troubleshooting can be the most rewarding aspect of this job.  I feel I learn more and become an even better independent thinker when I troubleshoot and optimize, not rely on previous data and change points to make my assumption and goal valid.

So, in terms of Dr. Ahvazi’s insertions and deletions it bothers me that he didn’t take the time to troubleshoot and optimize protocols or sample preps.  Anything to aid in his understanding of his research objective and goals.  The case study finished with the consequences of Dr. Ahvazi’s actions.  He agreed for a period of two year to have his US Public Health research supervised and he must inform any employer or institution of his agreement and terms of supervision.  He also agreed to exclude himself voluntarily from serving on any committee, board, etc.

Research misconduct is such an important aspect in any field.  As a masters student at Appalachian State University, my PI and advisor required us to complete The Lab: Avoiding Misconduct before working in the lab.  This is a pretty interesting module that allows the user to step in the shoes of the post-doc researcher, grad student, PI, and the RIO (research integrity officer).  Four very different roles that face and have to overcome some serious issues and obstacles.  Highly recommend!