High-profile obesity research funded by Singapore cited for fraud

Three medical researchers who published high-profile papers on a potential breakthrough in understanding the protein myostatin have been called out on research funded by leading academic and government bodies in Singapore now said to be fraudulent.

The Straits Times newspaper said that Ravi Kambadur, 54, a professor who was with the Nanyang Technological University (NTU), has been removed from posts and several papers have been retracted. Kambadur is also a professor at the Singapore Institute for Clinical Sciences. 

Myostatin was linked in the papers to potential "fat-burning" action that could trim weight and aid in the treatment of obesity and diabetes, according to the Straits Times.

The research was led by Kambadur, who has been terminated from appointments at NTU's School of Biological Sciences and the Singapore Institute for Clinical Sciences--which comes under the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star), the newspaper said, citing NTU.

In 2009, Singapore awarded a Kambadur-led team research grants to pursue his work on myostatins, which led to the 2012 discovery that by blocking the protein myostatin, muscle growth could be enhanced and fat utilization in the body could be increased.

But the newspaper said that the laboratory work was falsified, citing unspecified investigations by NTU. Team member Mridula Sharma is gone from NUS, and former NTU researcher Sudarsanareddy Lokireddy's doctorate was revoked. A total of 6 papers were retracted.

The papers retracted included three on myostatins published in 2011 and 2012, while two other papers were corrected and one withdrawn prior to publication, the Straits Times said.

Another three papers published from 2012 to 2014, based on research funded by A*Star and the National Research Foundation (NRF), are in the process of being retracted from the journals Molecular Endocrinology and Journal of Biological Chemistry, according to the Straits Times.

In January of this year, the NRF unveiled a S$19 billion ($13 billion), 5-year research program that it hopes will help the city-state move up the value chain and turn more of its raw research into commercial opportunities.

"NRF holds a very high expectation with regard to the research that we fund," NRF CEO Low Teck Seng told the newspaper. "We do not condone any fraud or flouting of ethics. In my view, the organizations involved acted swiftly and appropriately."

Lokireddy has reportedly been working as a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard Medical School and has published at least one paper as first author, in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences late last year, according to the Straits Times.

Efforts to contact Sharma, Lokireddy and Kambadur were unsuccessful.

- here's the story from the Straits Times

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