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Scientist Pleads Guilty to Fraud in Falsification of HIV Vaccine Test Results

A former researcher and lab manager at the Iowa State University of Science and Technology (ISU) has been charged with research misconduct for falsifying experimental results in an HIV vaccine trial [1]. Dong-Pyou Han, Ph. D., was forced to resign from his position after the fraudulent data were discovered in 2013 [1].

By spiking rabbit sera with human sera containing HIV antibodies, Han made it appear as though the HIV/AIDS vaccine, gp41, in the experimental trial was successful in combating the HIV/AIDS virus in rabbits [2]. These “striking” results secured approximately $10 million in federal grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) [3, 4]. This money was part of a $19 million package of multi-year grants for researchers engaged in associated research [3]. In reality, however, vaccine gp41 did not have any effect similar to the reported magnitude [5]. In addition to research misconduct and misuse of funds, officials were also concerned that these results had been circulated in laboratory, national, and international meetings, in addition to their reporting in applications and progress reports for grants [6].

In his punishment by the Office of Research Integrity of the Department of Health and Human Services, Han voluntarily agreed to a three-year prohibition from participating in or contributing to federally-funded research [4, 6]. Additionally, ISU returned almost $500,000 of grant money and the federal government withdrew $1.4 million in planned funding [1]. Concerned with the misuse of taxpayer dollars and government oversight of fraud, Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa contacted the US Attorney General’s office, which brought the case forward to a grand jury [3]. This was unusual - scientists charged with research misconduct typically have to pay a fine and are prohibited from receiving federal grant money for some time [1]. However, Han was indicted by the U.S. District Attorney on four counts of making false statements under federal law [1].

Han pled guilty to two of the four felony charges; prosecutors dropped the other two [1, 5]. He now faces up to 10 years in prison [1, 2]. His final sentencing will take place in May 2015 [1].


This article is part of the Winter 2015 issue of Professional Ethics Report (PER). PER, which has been in publication since 1988, reports on news and events, programs and activities, and resources related to professional ethics issues, with a particular focus on those professions whose members are engaged in scientific research and its applications.