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Last Updated: Wednesday, 12 April 2006, 11:59 GMT 12:59 UK
Drive to cut fraudulent research
Lab shot
Research abuse is relatively rare
An office has been established to try to tackle medical research malpractice.

The UK Research Integrity Office will develop a code of practice for staff working in the NHS, universities and the health industry.

It will also offer support to whistleblowers, and provide experts to boost the quality of future research.

However, it will remain the responsibility of employers or sponsors to investigate individual allegations of fraud or unethical working.

The move will help to bring the UK into line with other similar initiatives in the US and parts of Europe, including Scandinavia.

The poor practice and misconduct of a few undermine public confidence and can put patients and volunteers at risk
Sir Ian Kennedy

The issue of fraud in medical research recently hit the headlines with the shaming of Dr Hwang Woo-suk, who admitted fabricating elements of his apparently ground-breaking work on stem cells.

Until now the UK has not no systematic way of identifying instances of research abuse.

Professor Sir Ian Kennedy, an expert on medical ethics and health policy, will oversee the new project.

He said: "The UK's research community needs to demonstrate its integrity in the conduct of research.

"The poor practice and misconduct of a few undermine public confidence and can put patients and volunteers at risk.

"There is always a danger of a public backlash against biomedical research because of a few high-profile cases.

"Biomedical research is essential, but it must be conducted in such a way that the public has confidence in it and that what is published in the medical literature stands up to scrutiny and can be relied on."

Transparency

Professor Michael Rees, chair of the British Medical Association's medical academics committee, welcomed the move.

He said: "Fraudulent and unethical practices have no place in UK research.

"It is in all our interests - universities', academics' and patients' - to ensure that the research environment is as transparent as possible."

Professor Rees said there was no central body at present for sharing good practice in research. This had resulted in a patchy approach across the UK.

Professor Michael Farthing, who was behind a three-year pilot of the scheme, said it had been estimated that up to 1% of clinical trials include an element of misconduct.

He said: "The panel's work will bring greater transparency to the type and frequency of research misconduct in the UK and will contribute to its reduction."

Dr Harvey Marcovitch, chair of the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE), hoped the move would boost public confidence in the honesty of scientific and medical researchers.

He said: "Our members are used to fraud and misconduct coming to light only after research has been published.

"That is far too late, especially if patients' treatment has changed as a result of unreliable evidence.

"In the past COPE has found some institutions reluctant to investigate allegations of misconduct that editors bring to their attention.

"We hope that with Universities UK on board, and the panel's stated policy of trying to change the prevailing culture, this will no longer be the case."


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