Last year, Iowa State University researcher Dr. Dong-Pyou Han resigned after news of his falsified research results regarding an HIV vaccine became public knowledge. As the researcher awaits trial in federal court, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) recently announced that the remaining members of Han’s team will not be awarded their promised $1.38 million in grant money.
The NIH originally awarded Han’s research team, which is led by biomedical sciences professor Michael Cho, $6.8 million to be distributed over the course of five years. Unfortunately, following the controversy surrounding Han’s inauthentic lab results, the NIH announced on Tuesday that it would no longer award Iowa State University’s AIDS research team their final installment, Time reported. In an email from an agency spokesperson, it was explained that the NIH “makes funding decisions based on scientific merit of the proposed research,” and “the researchers are eligible to apply for future NIH grant funding through their institutions just as other researchers may apply.”
The NIH is the leading source of federal money for medical research, the Des Moines Register reported. Along with not receiving the final grant payment, ISU will need to reimburse the agency $496,000 for costs related to Han’s employment.
The withholding of the final installment may not have severe consequences on the team’s ongoing project. Iowa State University’s spokesman, John McCarroll, explained that the remaining 10 team members, who were completely unaware of Han’s forgery, may have enough funding to continue their work. Healing from the negative perception, however, may take between two and five years, according to experts. Team leader Cho believes that the scandal, “will allow the team to emerge much stronger in the long run.”
The project of which Han and his team were working on involved using rabbits to test an HIV vaccine. Although test results initially found that the team’s vaccine had caused the rabbits to develop antibodies to HIV, a major medical breakthrough at the time, a follow-up review from external researchers showed that the rabbit blood had been tainted with human antibodies. This rendered the results inaccurate. Han admitted that he tainted the lab results “because he wanted [results] to look better.”
The 57-year-old South Korean native is currently awaiting trial on four counts of making false statements in research reports. He is free on bond and scheduled for a trial on Sept. 2 but for the time being is allowed to live in Ohio near his family.