Bharat Aggarwal, PhD, from the Cytokine Research Laboratory at Department of Experimental Therapeutics at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center is alleged to have altered images in 65 published scientific papers.
The allegations relate to research published between 1999 and 2012 focusing on the potential anti-cancer effects of various natural products and ingredients, including curcumin, resveratrol, capsaicin, Lactobacillus reuteri and cardamonin.
Dr Aggarwal is perhaps most well known for his work on curcumin, the natural pigment that gives the spice turmeric its yellow color.
The compound has increasingly come under the scientific spotlight in recent years, with research groups around the globe investigating its potential benefits for reducing cholesterol levels, improving cardiovascular health, reducing the risk of Alzheimer's, and potential protection against cancer.
Many of the potential anti-cancer benefits of the compound were elucidated by Dr Aggarwal and his group, which used Sabinsa’s Curcumin C3 Complex in many of the studies.
There are absolutely no allegations against Sabinsa, and Shaheen Majeed, the company’s marketing director, told NutraIngredients-USA that the potential benefits of curcumin should not be questioned by the recent allegations.
“Dr Aggarwal’s was not the only group within MD Anderson that did research on curcumin,” he said.
“Also, his findings were no different to any other findings about curcumin in other groups, universities and institutions around the world. He first reported the anti-inflammatory potential of curcumin and this has been reproduced elsewhere.”
An MD Anderson spokesperson confirmed to NutraIngredients-USA that a review is under way.
“MD Anderson takes an allegation of research impropriety seriously, and we use internal and regulatory processes to review any such matter that is reported. Until a review is complete, we are required to keep details confidential.”
According to the Houston Chronicle, MD Anderson was notified of the fraud allegations by the Office of Research Integrity (ORI).
However, John Dahlberg, PhD, director of the Division of Investigative Oversight at ORI could not confirm to NutraIngredients-USA that ORI was also investigating possible research misconduct.
“The Privacy Act System of Records prohibits ORI from either confirming or denying that we are aware of or investigating any active case,” he said.
Resveratrol research scandal
The MD Anderson research scandal is the second of 2012 involving natural product researchers, following the accusation by the University of Connecticut that Dr Dipak Das, a longtime researcher of the red wine compound resveratrol, fabricated data on at least 145 occasions, in 26 research papers published in 11 journals over seven years.
The University had taken part in a three-year investigation before going public in January with its allegations that Dr Das enagaged in systematic alteration of a type of data called Western Blot images which plot data - usually by Photoshop manipulation on his computer.
The allegations were refuted on the grounds of a racist conspiracy by Dr Das, but aside from a statement from his lawyer, he has remained largely silent on the affair as he recovers from a heart complaint in India.