US researcher jailed for falsifying HIV study

Former Iowa State University researcher Dong Pyou Han leaves the federal courthouse in Des Moines, Iowa. Photo: AP

Selection_167IOWA: A former university scientist who altered blood samples to make it appear he had achieved an HIV vaccine breakthrough has been jailed for more than four years.

Dong-Pyou Han, 58, must also pay $US7.2 million ($A9.42 million) to a US government agency that funded the research.

He entered a plea agreement in February, admitting guilt to two counts of making false statements.

Prosecutors said Han’s misconduct dated to 2008, when he worked at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland under Professor Michael Cho.

Cho was leading a team testing an experimental HIV vaccine on rabbits.

His team began receiving federal funding and he soon reported the vaccine was causing rabbits to develop antibodies to HIV, which was considered a major breakthrough.

Han said he initially accidentally mixed human blood with rabbit blood, making the potential vaccine appear to increase an immune defence against HIV, the virus that can cause AIDS.

Han continued to spike the results to avoid disappointing Cho, his mentor, after the scientific community became excited that the team could be on the verge of a vaccine.

Iowa State University recruited Cho and his team – including Han – in 2009 to continue the research with National Institutes of Health funding.

A group of researchers at Harvard University found in January 2013 the promising results had been achieved with rabbit blood spiked with human antibodies.

Han’s lawyer Joseph Herrold asked for probation instead of prison.

“Here, there is little reason to believe that Dr Han has not already been deterred from any future criminal conduct,” Herrold wrote in a sentencing report.

“His conduct is aberrational in an otherwise admirable life.

“He regrets the hurt he has caused to his friends and colleagues, the damage he has caused to government funded scientific research and the pain he has caused any members of the public who had high hopes based on his falsehood.”

Herrold said Han had lost the ability to work in his field of choice, and was likely to be deported by immigration officials “and possibly never permitted to return”, separating him from his wife and two adult children, who are US citizens.

Han, who was born in Seoul, South Korea, is a lawful permanent US resident.

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