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MIT fires professor over falsified data

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology has fired a biology professor for allegedly fabricating research data.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology has fired a biology professor for allegedly fabricating research data.

Luk Van Parijs, an associate professor in MIT's Center for Cancer Research, was placed on leave after a group of colleagues reported the allegations of "research misconduct" to MIT administrators in August 2004.

He was fired Wednesday, according to MIT spokeswoman Denise Brehm.

The school says Van Parijs, 35, admitted to fabricating and falsifying data in a paper, several manuscripts and grant applications.

An MIT investigation found no evidence that his co-authors or other members of his research group were involved in the alleged misconduct, said Alice Gast, the school's associate provost and vice president for research.

"Integrity in research and scholarship is a bedrock principle of MIT," Gast said in a statement. "Research misconduct violates this principle and MIT takes any allegations of research misconduct very seriously."

Van Parijs did not immediately return a telephone message left at a residential listing.

In an e-mail to The Boston Globe Thursday night from his MIT account, Van Parijs said, "I was shocked at the timing and manner in which MIT made the announcement since I had cooperated with the investigation to the fullest of my capabilities."

Gast wouldn't identify the work that contained the allegedly fabricated data. But in May, the journal "Current Opinion in Molecular Therapeutics" published a correction of an 2004 article of which Van Parijs was the lead author, the Globe reported.

The correction said the article's authors were unable to document a claim that researchers had found a way to use a virus to both make the blood of a mouse cancerous and block the actions of specific genes to see how that would affect the cancer. Such a finding would advance cancer research by making it easier to study blood cancers in mice.

Among Van Parijs' other work was a 2003 study published in the journal Nature Genetics that explained how to use RNA interference to turn genes off in cells, a potential step toward silencing genes involved in disease.

Brehm said Van Parijs was conducting "basic scientific research" on the defects in immune cells during disease development.

"This area of research at MIT is still strong and healthy," Brehm added. "Researchers here continue to make legitimate and important advances in this area."

Because Van Parijs received federal funding for some of his work, MIT said it consulted with the Office of Research Integrity, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, as the school investigated the allegations.

MIT plans to give the Office of Research Integrity a report on its investigation in about a month, but those findings will not not be made public until federal officials complete their own investigation, according to Brehm.

"The investigatory process is very confidential and is not yet complete," she added.

Van Parijs, who earned a doctorate in immunology from Harvard in 1997, was a postdoctural student at the California Institute of Technology from 1998 to 2000. He worked with Cal Tech President David Baltimore "on problems in immunology," said school spokeswoman Jill Perry.

Perry said Cal Tech has launched its own investigation into the work Van Parijs performed there before he left for MIT, including work that was published in the journal Immunity.

Van Parijs' profile on Community of Science, an online database of information about scientists, describes his area of expertise as "regulation of cell proliferation and death in the function and diseases of the immune system."

His work has been published in several magazines and journals, including Science, according to his online profile. A spokeswoman for Science said the magazine was not aware of MIT's investigation.