The Researcher Who Faked The HIV Vaccine Got Into a 4 1/2 Year Jail Sentence

The Researcher Who Faked The HIV Vaccine Got Into a 4 1/2 Year Jail SentenceFormer Iowa State University researcher Dong-Pyou Han leaves the federal courthouse in Des Moines, Iowa. Han, who pleaded guilty in February from making false statements about a potential HIV vaccine in research reports, was sentenced Wednesday (July 1, 2015) in federal court  in Des Moines to a 4 and a half years in prison and must repay a federal government agency more than $7 million.

His defense lawyer, Joseph Herrold, says Han initially accidentally mixed a human blood with rabbit blood making a potential vaccine appear to increase an immune defense against HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

The Researcher Who Faked The HIV Vaccine Got Into a 4 1/2 Year Jail SentenceUnfortunately for Han, his case caught the eye of Iowa Senator Charles Grassley, who has investigated similar cases before, meaning that the repercussions from his criminal actions were far from over.
This seems like a very light penalty for a doctor who purposely tampered with a research trial and directly caused millions of taxpayer dollars to be wasted on fraudulent studies,” Grassley wrote in a letter to the office that hands out punishments for scientific misconduct.   

Charges were pressed in 2014 and his case was later presented to a grand jury, in which he pled guilty. It might be unusual for cases to go this far, but that doesn’t mean he is undeserving of his sentence: He spent years flushing hard-to-come-by funds down the drain and deceived people into thinking we could be close to a desperately needed HIV vaccine.

According to the Washington Post, here’s how he did it:

Seven years ago, Han was working in the lab of Professor Michael Cho, who at the time was based at Case Western Reserve University. His team began injecting an experimental HIV vaccine into rabbits to see if it could evoke an appropriate immune response, and remarkably it seemed to work. Antibodies were discovered in the blood samples, suggesting the animals were starting to tackle the virus. Of course, Cho was ecstatic about the finding and requested more money to continue the research.

The Researcher Who Faked The HIV Vaccine Got Into a 4 1/2 Year Jail SentenceLittle did he know that the antibodies were actually the result of a mix up with samples that contained human antibodies. But rather than coming clean of the supposedly accidental error, Han continued to lace samples with human antibodies, making it look more and more convincing that the candidate could be the groundbreaking vaccine everyone had been yearning for.

While repeatability is critical in scientific research, Han had obviously failed to take this into consideration and, of course, other groups later tried to replicate the findings. After requesting a sample from Cho’s lab to assist their investigation, Harvard researchers were a tad surprised to find human antibodies in a rabbit blood sample. An investigation was launched, and Han had no choice but to admit what he had done.

While scientists should not be immune to the law, some have questioned whether jail time will achieve anything, although such a harsh sentence may serve as a deterrent from future acts. 

Herrold says Han continued to spike the results to avoid disappointing his mentor after the scientific community became excited about a potential AIDS vaccine. 

But oh well, sorry folks, that wasn’t promising after all!

 

 

via Nature and Washington Post

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