Major Research Problem!!!

Discussion in 'Pre-Medical - MD' started by longhorn, Jul 28, 2002.

  1. longhorn

    longhorn Banned
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    I am workin at an NIH lab this summer and have come across a problem in the last week. I am not going to go into too much detail, but I basically found out the cell line our lab is using has mutated and has lost expression of a major oncoprotein. I told my postdoc and we discussed it with others who work with the cells. One of the guys was really emotional about it and ran to validate my results. The other, didn't seem to care, told me he had been noticing some strange protein levels in these cells. He then procedded to tell another senior scientist the next day that everything was fine. I then asked him for a lysate of his cells to test since he wasn't going to, and he rufused. Finnally, he gave me some cells which i had to grow, harvest, run a protein determination on, and a western. Well, I did some investigating of his cells and some older feeze downs, one in particular dating back to 4/18/01 and have found none of the cells express this protein anymore. The big problem with this is this cell line was made by my PI and sold to a company so anyone can use them. Now that means that any published papers by our lab could be refuted by another lab who has the normal cells. Another problem is the wasted work that has gone on since at LEAST 4/18/01. And this is government money too. so we all foot the bill. I have talked to my postdoc about telling the PI about this when I present my data for the summer(this week). He at first told me not to, saying you have to be a team player and how timing is everything. I totally understand this but I think this serious of an issue needs to be brought to the boss. Also, it doesnt seem like my lab is working as a team on this issue and I think some authority is needed here. If it was something minor I wouldn't mind "hiding" my results. This decision to tell or not is really weighing heavily on me. I do not want to start my career off on this kind of note and I definetly wish I had not found what I did.

    Another twist to this is my PI is a real hot shot(Lets just say he is Editor in CHief of a really really big name journal and one of the top doctors in his field). IF I keep this from him it means any research I did with this cell line is not accurate and I can not in good conscience present it to him. I will not put my name on any data which I know is a misrepresentaion. This makes my research for the summer half as good as it should be(I was using another cell line as well which is still good) and also eliminates most of my chances for a publication. I was planning on asking my PI for a rec. for medical school but I know if I completely omit this cell line my research doesn't look so good and either will the rec. I am also fully aware of how good my rec will be for finding this out and telling him.

    In summary I was planning on telling everyone in my lab my results and my intentions before I tell the PI. I think that is a fair solution to this problem so everyone has a chance to be prepared for any repurcussions. If i do not tell I get screwed and I guess my lab has more time to find out what happened before they tell the PI. If I tell I will look good and at least the problem will be handled properly. I hope I am making the right choice and not just the one which will benefit me the most. What do you guys think and any ideas on how to bring this up????? THANKS
     
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  3. Spiderman [RNA Ladder 2003]

    Spiderman [RNA Ladder 2003] Platinum Member

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    Wow. What a story! This is the reason why I am still reading SDN threads. You do not really have to tell anyone in the lab that you are going to talk to your PI. Try to meet with your PI so none knows about it and tell him what's going on. The PI will look into it without telling anyone who told him about it. And the others would not ask who told him.
    When you talk to your PI, you have to stress that how difficult it is for you to tell him the truth and there have been some pressure from the coworkers. (It will be reflected on your future LORs as a positive quality). You do not have to name the people who pressured you. Remember sour truth is better than sweet lies. Yes, you will loose some of your work but you will gain more respect from your boss which may result in advantages when you apply into med school. Your boss understand that reputation is hard to earn and will value what you have to say to him
     
  4. Spiderman [RNA Ladder 2003]

    Spiderman [RNA Ladder 2003] Platinum Member

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    And also. There is another story. There a lab with a boss who is a "big shot" too. This lab is one of those huge ones that take 2 floors. One of the post-docs was running cross-genetic expriements on mice. He did not get results from the expriments he expected. He had do get some spots on the mice in certain places. So he went ahead and marked those spots with a black marker and published a paper with these "results." The paper was published without any problems because the boss's name was on the paper, and since he was a hot shot the journal trusted him, hands down. Eventually information leaked out, and the journal deleted that publication and published in one of the later issues that paper was deliquent. That case left a stamp on the reputation of the PI and his lab was also sued by the journal for the reporting bull****.

    The information will eventually leak outand everyone going to find that earlier or later.
     
  5. Bikini Princess

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    longhorn - I replied to your post in the MSTP forum. (fyi - you really shouldn't make identical posts to different forums.)
     
  6. i'd be hesitant to report it to my P.I. unless you work directly under the P.I.. How does the loss of the cell line protein affect your Data? Your research may not be affected.

    You said someone ran to validate your results... have they been validated?

    Also, all your published papers should run controls. How did the lack of expression not screw up your controls?
     
  7. longhorn

    longhorn Banned
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    Yes my results were validated. It affects my results because this cell line has mutated and is not what it should be. Therefore, when I present my data I can not call it what it used to be without stating I have found some strange data about it. ALso, I do not have any idea of how this might affect my results because no one is trying to get there hands on the original cell line. I guess it looks bad to buy your own cell line back from a company.
     
  8. longhorn

    longhorn Banned
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    The publish papers do run controls but they haven't looked at this protein for a long time. It is however at the core of cancer research. I am sure you can figure out which protein I am talking a bout. So each paper would state these cells have been known to be ...yadda yadda yadda when that is not true anymore because they have mutated. A good researcher always throws out cells every few months to keep cell character constant. Apparently these guy didn't, or if they did they went back to a freeze down which was mutated. This is actually a great story in population genetics. How one advantageous mutation can take over all other normal cells.
     
  9. Bikini Princess

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  10. longhorn

    longhorn Banned
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    We have a winner
     
  11. but before you can jump to a conclusion that the whole cell line is bad (which is possible), did your independent validator use the same reagents as you in WB or creation of lysate?

    What's more common than a bunch of cell stocks going out wack is that your Ab reagents for your western are shot or the control is 10x brighter than your cell line stock thereby making them appear dim, etc...

    But then again, you are totally correct in saying that a cell line has to be thrown out every so often to maintain QC over it...

    At the same time, I would guess this is a QC problem that should be handled at the level of your mentor (whoever that might be)... Just make sure you document it in your lab notebook. That's what they're there for.

    --------
     
  12. Adcadet

    Adcadet Long way from Gate 27

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    I can see why this would be a difficult matter, but I'm disappointed someone applying to med school (MSTP too?) doesn't know what he/she should do. The only question is how to tell your lab. I think the advice to go straight to the PI is good advice - perhaps you can omit the fact that you first went to others in the lab. I've been in labs for 4+ years and have had to scuttle impressive looking research out of an unfortunate discovery. But if you can't accept the truth and communicate that to others you don't belong in research.
     
  13. Bikini Princess

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    Umm..

    1. Longhorn isn't going into MSTP, he's been dissing us MSTP'ers over in our own forum. :)

    2. I actually think longhorn is taking a mature response to this problem. If you read his post carefully, you'll find he's in a pretty sticky situation if he just blabs to the PI right now.
     
  14. Adcadet

    Adcadet Long way from Gate 27

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    Re: #1 - sorry. Didn't know the whole story.

    Re: #2 - indeed he should think carefully about how he goes about telling his PI, and perhaps those affected by the problem deserve to know, but I think the most responsible thing is to tell the PI as soon as your sure there's a problem - hopefully he's a mature researcher and will treat the lab people appropriately and fairly. The fact that others are encouraging him to cover up the facts/omit the troubling results is disconcerting - if it's no big deal or can be dealt with later, the PI can just do so. Think about it this way: if you were the PI, what would you want your workers to do? Personally I'd want to know of such results very quickly (and I'd make sure to mention the honesty of the med school applicant in every glowing LOR I sent out).
     
  15. Yogi Bear

    Yogi Bear 2K Member

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    ethically, i think u should tell the PI. I think the key in decision making is for you to ask the question: will my decision adversely affect anyone else? by hiding the truth, u'll be adversely affecting the PI because his entire career can be thrown down the drain. it's kinda like confidentiality issues w/ patients, and how sometimes it's necessary to break that confidentiality for the greater good.
     
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  17. Bikini Princess

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    in principle, you guys are right. in practice, most researchers have every right to be scared, since you can damage your career by crossing paths with more powerful people. But I agree, eventually he needs to show the data to the PI.
     
  18. Hallm_7

    Hallm_7 Senior Member

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    I'm not that far along in my college career and I haven't done any research yet, so I don't understand the technical possibilites and ramifications associated with the mutated cell line.

    I could be wrong since I haven't done any research, but I do think this could be an honesty/dishonesty decision. Do you think your PI would want to know? Do you think he needs to know? Is it your responsibility to tell him of major changes or problems associated with your research? If you answer "yes" then you need to tell him. Even if you thought it would hurt your chances of getting into med school you should tell him. If you didn't tell him, and you were accepted into med school, can you imagine living with the thought that you may have gotten in based partly on dishonesty?

    I think telling your PI would show him that you are an honest person who isn't willing to fabricate results in order to further your career. I know adcoms (and your future patients) would rather have an applicant be completely truthful than to have one who hid important results or facts.

    I could be completely wrong on all of this because I don't understand the technical aspects or how the research hierarchy works. If this is the case just disregard anything I said.
     
  19. Adcadet

    Adcadet Long way from Gate 27

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    Yup. I'd be scarred - I hope the PI is wise enough to give you a really great LOR that explains how great you are for doing the right thing. Hopefully adcoms will see that as more of a plus than the loss of publication(s).

    (I maintain that the PI needs to see the data as soon as reasonably possible)
     
  20. Bikini Princess

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    btw, i think this would be a great interview question. (not to detract from the seriousness of your situation)

    fyi - if you read the MSTP forum, you'll find that people have taken this thread a bit more seriously than in the MD forum.
     
  21. Street Philosopher

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    I was in a similar situation. I've been working on my project for about 2 years. I found out that I made some good screwups in the data.

    Long story short, I told my PI. He took it in stride, told me to run the shiz over again, and that was that.

    Correcting my error wasn't as much work as in your case obviously, but reporting bad results does much harm to the scientific community. I couldn't stand the guilt of publishing false results. That is way too shady for me.
     
  22. Adcadet

    Adcadet Long way from Gate 27

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    I was in a lab in which the PhD candidate had either been incorrectly analyzing his data (or faking it). There were irregularities in his data that he should have been noticing, but instead he decided to ignore them. And he had been doing this for at least a year and a half. Needless to say, when the PI found out (right before the guy was going to defend his thesis), the guy was kicked out of the lab. Had the guy gone to the PI at the first sign of trouble he would probably be Dr. ******* right now. Since them I've been keenly aware of the responsibility of telling the PI if anything seems wrong/strange. Nothing like a second set of eyes to examine a potential problem. Perhaps this is a partial solution to your problem, Longhorn: present the data to your PI as something you think might be a problem and ask for his advice/second set of eyes to look it over.
     
  23. trout

    trout Senior Member

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    Personally, as someone who just finished their PhD you are in a state of obligation to tell your PI. First, if your name goes on a paper with these results you are agreeing that you believe the results were done in good faith, which you know is not true. Secondly, retractions look horrible!!!! Third, you have to realize how intertwinded (SP?) people's research is. You don't want to have your "false" results published and have others spend years (and even more money and time) trying to come to a new hypothesis based off this false data. The entire system is based of honesty, communication and respect. Fourth, the scientific community can be really small and very chatty...nothing like being at a dinner at a large meeting talking about how there has never been a paper to prove X's work. Your mentor will be mortified if he finds out later. Also, integrity is an enormous part of participating on a scientific team. We actually had a post-doc fired for faking data (almost in a manner exactly like this) my last year.

    So what to tell the PI, if I were you go in humble, don't barge down his door and say that his post-doc is a jack-a**. Go in with your data and past data and mention that you ran these experiments and want help interpreting the results or you were extremely surprised by the findings. Sometimes it is difficult to spend years doing a project can see the light and have your entire world cave in.

    Mutations actually happen more often than people think. This doesn't mean that the sold cell line (which I have used and ran controls on...so not all have mutated!) has also mutated...remember random
     
  24. kutastha

    kutastha 2K Member
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    There are two kinds of discrepancies like this:

    1) Someone intentionally fudges data to make it look good.

    2) Data that originally said one thing, is ultimately found to say another.

    The former is a career-ruiner. The latter happens all the time. Discuss your results with your PI - they actually sound rather exciting and more open doors for more research into the loss of p53 expression in these particular lines. Good luck.
     
  25. I don't know how all of your Lab research worked, but in my lab research experiences, I never worked directly with the P.I.. I worked directly with a team of post-docs and clinical fellows. I had one MD who served as my mentor and my P.I. was busy jet setting around, writing grant proposals, and saving the world.

    The chain of command at my workplace was pretty strict. If you had a complaint, you wouldn't relay it directly to the P.I. or the scientific director (the headboss in charge of several P.I.s at the institute). You would bring it to the attention of your mentor. The mentor would take appropriate action and resolve it or bring it to the attention of the P.I..

    I think disrespecting this chain of command can ruffle the feathers of the people you have to work with. Working at the NIH is definitely an enviable position and your contacts there will be great resources and references in the future. I agree with everyone who says "go in humble" but I would go in "humble" but also go in on through the right/established pathway.

    Besides, your lab, by law, should have a SOPM (Standard Operating Procedure Manual) which *should* include the procedure for reporting irregular data.
     
  26. DarkChild

    DarkChild Senior Member

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    I agree with JayVee - who is your direct superior? Have you notified them of the irregularities? Do you have it in writing - i.e. an email...
    Good. Then you are covered. I know you have to present to the P.I. - if your superior still hasnt said anything to the P.I., innocently ask that your superior look over the presentation that you plan to give... that way if there is anything he/she deems "inappropriate" then it can be taken out.
    honestly, you're at the bottom of the totem-pole. I know every one thinks the scientific community is a complete and total meritocracy - but its not; it definately has a chain of command, and a stack of skeletons in the closet. Do as your superior tells you to - even if it jeopardizes the scope of your findings.
    Its really not worth embarrasing yourself, the PI, and your superior by jumping the gun.
     
  27. longhorn

    longhorn Banned
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    Ok, so I finnally told my PI today. This guy is a class act. You could tell he was furious but he still kept his kool in front of me, only slipping up a few times with some obviously pointed comments to those responsible. I basically did what you guys said, came in there humble, and with the belief the data are correct. He was happy with me, but focused more on what was going to be done. I definetly have this rec sewed up though.

    Looking back I am glad I played things the way I did. I wish the correct answer would have struck me more as the correct answer, but I guess thats why decisions are tough. I do feel bad about any repercussions from this event, but at least I know this situation is now a top priority.

    BTW my postdoc told me later there was a sentiment of guilt and fear in those repsonsible for what happened. He told me in no way were they trying to hide any data, rather just trying to delay its disclosure until more evidence had been gathered. I am still shocked that a discipline as pure as science, based on logic and strict naturalistic principles, is still just as easily corrupted by the pressures of politics and bureaucracy as any other field. I guess no matter how fair and "scientific we claim to be, we still are as bad as my hometown company, ENRON.
     
  28. longhorn

    longhorn Banned
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    Oh most importantly, Thanks to all who gave input, it was greatly appreciated.
     
  29. congrats on the successful telling of the PI. Sounds like you went about it the right way.

    I don't think anyone ever pretended that Science is infallible. There is plenty of backbiting and favoritism all over the place. Especially where grants and awards are concerned.
     
  30. longhorn

    longhorn Banned
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    Yea, I guess I was under the idealistic impression most scientists were above all that. I know most MDs are not.
     
  31. Adcadet

    Adcadet Long way from Gate 27

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    whew! Glad to hear that all went as well as can be expected. I hope your LOR is as glowing as it should be.

    Just remember - if this were easy, everybody would be doing it!
     
  32. Bikini Princess

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    adcadet - I pm'ed you about LOR's.
     

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