Jackson Lab ‘encouraged’ by investigation into fabricated research at UConn

The Jackson Laboratory on Mount Desert Island is seen in an aerial photo taken in October 2009.
BDN File Photo
The Jackson Laboratory on Mount Desert Island is seen in an aerial photo taken in October 2009.
Posted Jan. 16, 2012, at 3:27 p.m.

BAR HARBOR, Maine — Despite allegations of fabricated research at the University of Connecticut, officials with The Jackson Laboratory say they remain confident in the university and how it is handling the matter.

Jackson Lab has plans to partner with the University of Connecticut to establish a $1.1 billion personalized medicine research lab at the university’s health center in Farmington, Conn. Last fall, the Connecticut General Assembly agreed to put $291 million in bonds toward the development of the facility, while the Bar Harbor-based lab has promised to create 320 jobs over 10 years and a total of 661 over 20 years.

While developing those plans, however, the university also has been investigating allegations of falsified research by a scientist at UConn’s Health Center. The researcher, Dr. Dipak Das, did some studies of resveratrol, an ingredient in red wine that has shown potential for promoting health.

Last week, Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy was quoted by the Hartford Courant newspaper as commenting about how the UConn investigation might affect plans for the school’s research partnership with Jackson Lab. After spending three years looking into complaints about Das’ research, UConn officials announced last week that they found 145 instances over seven years in which they believe Das fabricated, falsified and manipulated data.

“Do I think it’s helpful? The obvious answer is no,” the newspaper quoted Malloy as saying. The newspaper went on to indicate that Malloy pointed out the university began the investigation on its own and brought its findings to the appropriate external authorities.

Jackson Lab officials released a brief statement on Jan. 13 about the UConn investigation. Jackson Lab is not and never has been connected with Das and his research, they indicated.

“We’re encouraged to see the university take it so seriously and to investigate it so thoroughly, in keeping with its high standard of scientific integrity,” lab spokeswoman Joyce Peterson wrote Friday in a brief email.

In a prepared statement released earlier this month, Jackson Lab officials said its initial operations at UConn Health Center will begin this year in leased space while a 173,000-square-foot permanent facility is designed and built on a 17-acre site at the school. Construction will begin in 2013, and the new facility will open in 2014.

The facility is expected to house 300 biomedical researchers, technicians and support staff in state-of-the-art computing facilities and laboratories, according to lab officials. It will draw upon Jackson’s eight decades of research and the medical expertise of Connecticut’s universities and hospitals, including UConn Health Center and Yale University School of Medicine, to find new ways to tailor disease diagnosis, prevention and treatment to each person’s unique genetic makeup, or genome.

Jackson Lab had planned to build a personalized medicine research center in Florida, first in Collier County and then in Sarasota County, but withdrew those plans last summer because of insufficient financial support from the state.

Lab officials have said they plan over time to continue expanding their existing facilities and operations in Bar Harbor, which they said will benefit from the project in Connecticut. With more than 1,200 employees in Bar Harbor, Jackson Lab is one of the largest employers in eastern Maine and is the largest in Hancock County.

Jackson Lab is known internationally for its use of mice to research human disease and medical conditions. Each year it produces millions of specially bred laboratory mice that are used in similar studies all over the world.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Follow reporter Bill Trotter on Twitter at @billtrotter.

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