Medical experts are alarmed by rise in fraudulent research

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Indy Lifestyle Online

Article updated on 1 June 2011.

Britain's medical establishment is facing a series of allegations of fraudulent research, which experts fear could undermine confidence in scientific findings.

More than a dozen cases involving doctors charged with research fraud will be heard by the General Medical Council (GMC) during the next year.

Today, two doctors are due to appear before the GMC in connection with a case in which a 66-year-old man, Alan Bowler, died during a trial of the heart drug Manoplax, which has since been withdrawn. His family received £210,000 compensation in an out-of-court settlement three years ago.

Dr Robert Davies, now a consultant cardiologist at Chase Farm Hospital in Hertfordshire, is alleged to have inappropriately included Mr Bowler in the study and given him inappropriate care.

Professor Desmond Sheridan, of St Mary's Hospital, London, is charged with failing to supervise Dr Davies properly and with providing misleading statements to the family about the cause of the death in 1992.

The study involved threading a catheter into the patient's heart, but Mr Bowler's heart was so damaged that the procedure was dangerous. It is understood Professor Sheridan told the family that Mr Bowler had died of a heart attack but did not mention the patient's role in the drug trial.

Following the hearing, the General Medical Council (GMC) cleared both Professor Desmond Sheridan and Dr Alan Davies of serious professional misconduct, stating that they had acted properly in including 66-year-old Alan Bowler in a study and that "decisions to identify Mr Bowler as a candidate for the drug study were not inappropriate, irresponsible or contrary to the research protocol or contrary to the patient's best interests." Professor Sheridan, said the committee, had properly supervised Dr Davies' work, and had "honestly and carefully" explained the cause of death.

A second case involves allegations of fraudulent research at King's College Hospital in London in the early 1990s, in which laboratory books containing evidence are said to have been shredded and whistleblowers told not to talk.

Last week, Anjan Kumar Bannerjee, now a consultant surgeon at the Royal Halifax Infirmary, was found guilty of research fraud at King's in the 1990s when he was a junior doctor. The GMC found he had substituted his own urine for that of 12 healthy adults in a study and published a fraudulent article, in the medical journal Gut, based on the results. His supervisor, Timothy Peters, Professor of Clinical Biochemistry, is to appear before the GMC in the new year, charged in connection with the case.

Dr Bannerjee was reported to the GMC by Dr Peter Wilmshurst, a consultant cardiologist at the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital, who has campaigned against research fraud for many years. He said he had reported "at least a dozen" cases of suspected fraud to the GMC.

"It was stated at the GMC that some of the whistleblowers were told if they didn't keep quiet their careers would suffer. It was also said at the hearing that the laboratory books relating to Mr Bannerjee were shredded," Dr Wilmshurst said.

He said Dr Bannerjee had published 49 papers while still a junior doctor, which was "unheard of". London University gave him a Master of Surgery degree, despite being made aware of concerns about his research. "I have documents which show that they were told that the research in his thesis was fraudulent," Dr Wilms-hurst said.

King's College denied that it had been involved in any kind of cover-up, although the college confirmed that Professor Peters was due to appear before the GMC and said the allegations were "unfounded. The college is astounded that Dr Wilmshurst is reporting allegations against the college which are unwarranted..." it said.

Tomorrow, the Committee on Publication Ethics, a group of editors of medical journals backed by the British Medical Journal and The Lancet, will announce new measures to tackle scientific fraud.