AIDS Research Contaminated by Blood-Spiking Fraud

An Iowa State University assistant professor of biomedical sciences resigned in October after admitting to spiking rabbit blood to obtain positive results in a research study of an AIDS vaccine.

According to Dr. James Bradac of the National Institutes of Health, the fraudulent results reported by Dr. Dong-Pyou Han helped an ISU research team gain millions of dollars in federal grant money for AIDS vaccines.

Han is accused of adding blood components of humans who had developed antibodies to the HIV virus to the rabbit blood. This made it appear that the rabbits had developed immunity to HIV as a result of receiving the experimental vaccine.

In a phone interview with the Des Moines Register, Dr. Bradac called this the worst case of research fraud he had seen in his 24 years at NIH.

The ISU team is led by Dr. Michael Cho. Han worked for Cho for about 15 years. During that time, the team was awarded some $19 million in multiyear grants. Cho does not face discipline in the matter. 

The rabbit blood study was presented at numerous scientific meetings over several years. Suspicions were raised when researchers at other institutions were unable to replicate the ISU results.

The reaction of medical professionals has been one of alarm. Typically, incidents of misconduct tend to involve someone writing down false data. The "brazen altering of physical evidence" in this case is unprecedented.


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