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Grant application under investigation

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Queensland University of Technology (QUT) researchers were investigated after admitting to incorrectly filling out a grant application.

The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) are examining the circumstances under which QUT was awarded a $275,000 grant to fund research into stem cell cultivation.

The researchers were working on developing a product to safely grow cells in the lab without the use of risky animal proteins. However, university insiders accused the researchers of exaggerating results.

QUT’s Vice Chancellor Professor Peter Coaldrake said it was alleged that some data in the grant application had been falsified. QUT held their own inquiry and cleared the researchers involved.

“A series of errors… resulted in the final version of the grant not containing the latest data set. [But], it was hard to conclude that the error was misconduct,” Professor Coaldrake told the Courier Mail.

The QUT inquiry panel found errors the researchers were unable to explain and rejected the researchers’ claims that they were minor. They also found it “very surprising” that such groundbreaking work had later been abandoned.

The panel cleared the researchers of misconduct, concluding the mistakes were “believed to be inadvertent rather than fraudulent” but recommended that lab practices be tightened.

The NHMRC, however, is not satisfied with some of QUT’s investigative procedures and wants a review by the Australian Research Integrity Committee.

NHMRC recently wrote to a researcher involved in highlighting the mistakes in the grant application asking for their cooperation in an external review of the way QUT conducted its investigation.

“NHMRC had considered the information provided by QUT and formed the view there [are] questions about certain procedural steps taken by QUT during the investigation,” NHMRC wrote.

The journal, Stem Cells and Development, which published the original research, has since retracted the article.

In addition to the grant from the NHMRC the QUT researchers also received $225,000 from then premier Peter Beattie. While QUT has informed the NHMRC and the Crime and Misconduct Commission about the errors in the application it has not told the State Government.

QUT Registrar Shard Lorenzo told the Courier Mail that the University had not informed the State Government about the allegations because the researchers advised that the grant was not related to the research in the retracted paper.

“This grant was about making chimeric proteins that are different from the chimeric protein in the retracted paper,” Ms Lorenzzo said. “No publications have yet resulted from this work therefore the State Government has not been informed about the retracted publication.”

Kirsty Waterford