HIV Vaccine Results Faked by Iowa State Assistant Professor

The Associated Press (AP) and USA Today report that federal prosecutors in the Southern District of Iowa have filed charges against former Iowa State University assistant professor of biomedical sciences Dong-Pyou Han, after he confessed to spiking samples of rabbit blood with human antibodies to make an investigational HIV vaccine look promising. The AP reports that Han received millions in fraudulent National Institutes of Health (NIH) grants over several years based on his research. As USA Today reported in December 2013, the rabbit blood results were presented at numerous scientific meetings over the years, and other laboratories became suspicious when they could not duplicate Han’s results.

It has also been reported that in September 2013 Han wrote a two-page letter, littered with grammar errors, announcing his resignation from Iowa State. In that letter, Han stated “I am very ashamed myself about my misconduct. My misconduct is not done in order to hurt someone. All cause by my foolishness and are my faulty and responsibility.” A spokesperson for Iowa State University has confirmed that Han resigned in October 2013.

The AP spoke to Ivan Oransky, a co-founder of Retraction Watch, which tracks research misconduct, who says there have been only a handful of similar prosecutions in the last 30 years because the U.S. Office of Research Integrity, which investigates misconduct, doesn’t have the authority to prosecute, and most cases involve smaller amounts of money.

James Bradac, who helps oversee AIDS vaccine grants for NIH told USA Today in December 2013 that Hans apparently added human blood components to the rabbit blood to skew results. Bradac said this was the worst case of research fraud he had seen in his 24 years at NIH. According to Bradac, the human blood came from people whose bodies had produced antibodies to HIV. The presence of these antibodies in the rabbits’ blood made it appear that the vaccine was spurring the animals to build defenses against HIV, Bradac said.