The University of Kentucky said Friday that an internal investigation found two professors and a staff research scientist “responsible for significant research misconduct in a number of scholarly papers.” Kentucky will seek retraction of the publications in question and begin the termination process for Xianglin Shi and Zhuo Zhang, both professors of toxicology and cancer biology, should they not resign. Donghern Kim, a staff research scientist who worked in Zhang’s lab, was already let go. The university shut down the professors’ labs last week, and they are banned from campus with the exception of medical care. Five additional staff members were laid off because they are supported by research grants that will be terminated.
Kentucky’s investigation found several examples of falsified or fabricated data and numerous irregularities in seven grant proposals and at least 13 scholarly papers sampled from the researchers’ work. The university learned of potential misconduct from a source outside the university, it said. Very little of the original data requested was provided to the investigating committee that requested it, according to a statement from Kentucky. And a “lack of organization and oversight” in the research allowed for unsupported falsified and fabricated data to be presented in grants and publications. The investigating committee also found some instances of what it called intentional efforts to deceive. Shi and Zhang, who are reportedly married, could not immediately be reached for comment. Their work focused on metal toxicity.