Duke University investigators probing allegations of research fraud have found that one the university’s former lab techs falsified and fabricated data that factored into nearly 30 medical research studies.
According to the Durham Herald-Sun, findings from its in-house investigation have prompted Duke to admit that allegations of research fraud concerning the work of Erin Potts-Kant made in a whistleblower’s False Claims Act lawsuit against the university are valid.
The admissions come after Duke has repeatedly refuted the lawsuit’s allegations and sought to have the case dismissed.
Former Duke lab analyst Joseph Thomas filed the lawsuit on behalf of the U.S. government after Ms. Potts-Kant was implicated in an unrelated embezzlement scheme at the university. He alleges “Duke and some of its professors used the phony data to fraudulently obtain federal research grants,” the Herald-Sun reports. He also alleges they ignored warning signs about Ms. Potts-Kant’s work and then tried to cover up the fraud once that work raised suspicions.
When he filed the lawsuit in 2013, Mr. Thomas was a laboratory research analyst in the Pulmonary, Asthma and Critical Care Division of Duke University Health Systems and Ms. Potts-Kant was a clinical research coordinator in the same department.
Ms. Potts-Kant herself told Duke Investigators that she falsified data that factored into multiple medical research studies and grant applications, in some cases manipulating data to achieve a certain outcome and in other cases making the data up.
The bad data was exceptionally damaging since it came from the lab regarded as the core facility that professors at Duke and other Research Triangle universities relied on for measurements, the Herald-Sun reported.
According to the Herald-Sun, Mr. Thomas alleges that “pretty much all the lab work Potts-Kant did in her eight years at Duke was bogus, and that it compromised grants worth $112.8 million to Duke and a further $120.9 million to institutions like UNC-Chapel Hill and N.C. State University.” The federal research grants are the crux of Mr. Thomas’s False Claims Act allegations.
The bad data was also included in about 29 medical research reports, most of which have been redacted.
Duke denies Mr. Thomas’s allegations that it tried to cover-up the fraud. However, the university admitted that it provided the federal government with progress reports and updates on its research programs and in a grant-extension application using data from Ms. Potts-Kant after her work was already under scrutiny.