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NIH Researcher Commits Suicide While Under Pressure From Investigation

February 14, 1987 GMT

WASHINGTON (AP) _ A scientist at the National Institutes of Health committed suicide last week while under pressure from an investigation into possible fraud in a paper on genetics research, his widow said Friday.

Dr. Howard J. Eisen, a researcher at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, committed suicide Feb. 7 - 10 days after an appearance before a three-member committee investigating a manuscript that had been submitted for publication.

″There is no question in my mind that his death was related to the investigation,″ Eisen’s widow, Laura, said in a interview published in Saturday’s edition of The Washington Post.

Contacted by telephone Friday night, Mrs. Eisen said, ″I don’t know how (his death) was related, but I think it was a factor, definitely.″

The manuscript, titled ″Analysis of Mammalian P450 Catalytic Activity By Genetic Engineering and Expression In Yeast,″ was based on research by Alok Bandyopadhyay, a guest researcher who worked under Eisen in the laboratory of developmental pharmacology.

Bandyopadhyay was hired last summer by Dr. Daniel W. Nebert, chief of the developmental pharmacology division. He performed the experiments, Nebert wrote the paper based on his work and Eisen reviewed it, Mrs. Eisen told the newspaper.

All three scientists were listed as authors on the paper.

The paper was sent back with questions after researches noticed discrepancies, the newspaper said, quoting unnamed sources. Eisen took a closer look at the data and suspected fraud, according to his widow. He questioned Bandyopadhyay, who had no explanation, and tried to verify his resume, Mrs. Eisen said.

Eisen and Nebert then set an official investigation into motion, The Post said.

The National Institutes of Health, in a statement released Friday, said an investigation was initiated Jan. 8 into the background of the manuscript in the course of pre-publication review of the paper.

″Irregularities were detected in the data it contained,″ said Storm Whaley, an NIH spokesman. ″As a consequence, the paper was not submitted for publication. At that time, senior scientific staff of the NICHHD reviewed the irregularities and determined that further examination was warranted.″

A committee of two senior NIH scientists, not associated with the institute in which the laboratory is located, and an outside scientist were named to investigate the manuscript, Whaley said.

The committee was charged with determining ″what portions are scientifically supported by data and what portions if any rest upon fabricated or non-existent data.″

Eisen appeared before the panel on Jan. 28 and returned home ″panicked,″ his widow said.

″He was very upset that there might have been a supposition that he had done something wrong,″ Mrs. Eisen told The Post. ″He was rapidly not seeing things as clearly as he might. I think the facts are going to be very hard to determine. Different people will have different things to say.″

The committee has not completed its investigation, Whaley said.

However, the spokesman said, ″No allegations were made against Dr. Howard Eisen, a senior member of the research team that conducted the research. He encouraged and cooperated fully in the investigation.″