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April 12, 2012: by Bill Sardi
Noted herbal researcher Bahrat Aggarwal PhD, of the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston is the second major herbal researcher to be accused of scientific fraud this year. Word that 65 of his published papers were under scientific review began to be leaked first on the internet before news reports confirmed an investigation is underway.
Like Dipak Das, PhD, the University of Connecticut researcher who was charged with over a hundred counts of scientific deceit in January of this year, both researchers stand accused of altering graphic images in their published papers. And in both instances, there is unequivocal evidence of altered images in these published papers. However, interpretation of whether these altered images represent honest mistakes or intentional trickery is a bit more difficult.
Both researchers, Das and Aggarwal, are noted for their work on herbal molecules; Das for the red wine molecule resveratrol and Aggarwal for his study of curcumin, the turmeric spice molecule.
There is suspicion that both of these researchers were singled out for review largely because the molecules they are researching just happen to pose the greatest threat to modern pharmacology. Curcumin and resveratrol could replace most modern medicines as they both exhibit broad biological action and activate a large number of genes.
Just coincidentally, investigation of Das’ and Aggarwal’s published papers come at a time when drug patents on blockbuster drugs are expiring and these nutriceuticals stand poised to replace them.
Generally, modern medicine discovers plant molecules, uses them as a template to make synthetic drugs, that are look-alike molecules called analogs, into patentable drugs and claim they work in a superior manner to what nature provides. But in this case, the analogs are costly and may not work as well. Modern medicine needs more cost effective medicine, not high-priced medicine. There is incentive to keep the many health benefits promised by resveratrol and curcumin in the scientific closet.
Consider that curcumin and resveratrol, two similar shaped small molecules of about the same molecular weight, block cancer in all three stages of development – initiation, growth and spread (metastasis). No cancer drug can make such a claim. Yet in the past decade there has not been one human study to put these molecules to the test for cancer.
Furthermore, both of these molecules are known to avert the development of drug/tumor resistance. Yet not one study has been planned to use them in combination with chemotherapy, even for helpless terminal cancer patients who have no other hope.
Resveratrol, known as a red wine molecule, has not undergone a single human clinical trial for heart disease in the past eight years even though heart disease is supposedly its primary calling. In animal studies, resveratrol turned mortal heart attacks into non-mortal events. Aspirin and statin cholesterol-lowering drugs only modestly prevent non-mortal heart attacks.
The purpose of the attacks on these researchers has not solely been to sanction them and banish them from further research, it has been to retract all of their published works from publication. It sounds like a covert book-burning and censorship campaign. However, none of the altered images would change the conclusions drawn by these published studies. The University of Connecticut over-stepped when it said the altered images in Dr. Das’ paper negated all of his findings about resveratrol.
A larger question is why there was no adequate peer review prior to publication of these images. These mistakes or deceptions are not supposed to make it past peer reviewers at scientific publications. Why are the researchers left to hang? If bogus science was detected it should have never gotten into print.
Also, most of the images in Dr. Das’ case were altered at the request of editors who demanded they be enhanced for publication purposes. In Dr. Aggarwal’s case, a number of images were sloppily published upside down or in the wrong order, but this was deemed to represent fraud. But again, the images in question simply wouldn’t alter the major findings of the study.
In the case of Dr. Das, some unidentified party at the university is sending requests to retract all of his published papers. Yet, when confronted, university representatives say they have no idea who is sending these demands. Science journals are obligated to retract papers when a university makes such a request. Dr. Das maintains the research his lab conducted is 99% accurate and he is refuting all allegations made against him in a private hearing taking place this week.
Stay tuned – we will all see where this is headed. It’s the repeat of a scenario well described in the 1953 Ray Bradbury novel entitled Fahrenheit 451. Copyright 2012 Bill Sardi Not for posting on other websites.