Irish-funded scientist under investigation over his research

Dr Robert Ryan faces allegations that he falsified findings on cystic fibrosis

University College Cork, where Dr Robert Ryan used to be  based. Dr Ryan is under investigation amid claims he falsified research. Photograph: Matt Kavanagh

University College Cork, where Dr Robert Ryan used to be based. Dr Ryan is under investigation amid claims he falsified research. Photograph: Matt Kavanagh

 

A Scottish-based scientist who was awarded grants worth almost €500,000 from Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) is under investigation amid allegations that he falsified and duplicated research into new treatments for cystic fibrosis.

Dr Robert Ryan, has been suspended from his senior post in molecular bacteriology at University of Dundee following claims that aspects of his published research showed an “intent to deceive”.

Between 2009 and 2012, Dr Ryan received €485,811 from SFI, including a grant to set up his own research group at University College Cork (UCC).

In 2013, he moved from UCC to Dundee University, a world-leading research university for life sciences, as a Wellcome Trust Senior Fellow working at the forefront of efforts to develop potential treatments for diseases such as cystic fibrosis.

It is alleged Dr Ryan used identical images across multiple research papers, claiming they were different strains of cystic fibrosis.

In some cases, it is alleged the evidence was flipped or rotated, which could indicate an “intent to deceive”, a source told an investigation by Scotland on Sunday.

The allegations could raise questions about not only his research in Scotland but his previous work at UCC.

Formal investigation

Dundee University has launched a formal investigation into the allegations against Dr Ryan, led by university vice-principals. The inquiry is expected to last between two and four weeks.

According to SFI’s National Policy Statement on Ensuring Research Integrity, institutions in receipt of funding “are required to inform the body that a potential breach of research integrity has been identified, should the potential breach be linked to an SFI award”.

After the institution conducted its own investigation, independently audited by the SFI, “the Board of Science Foundation Ireland then decides whether to take any additional action”.

The allegations could seriously damage the reputation of someone regarded as one of Europe’s outstanding young microbiologists.

Dr Ryan has won a number of awards including the Fleming Prize and, while working at UCC the WH Pierce Prize, awarded to microbiologists under the age of 40 who have made a substantial contribution.

Coveted role

Last October, Dr Ryan was accepted into the coveted Young Investigators network of the European Molecular Biology Organisation.

As well as SFI funding, Dr Ryan has received at least €700,000 in grants from other bodies.

A spokeswoman for UCC said: “UCC understands that there has been an allegation of research misconduct in relation to a member of staff at the University of Dundee.

“UCC does not comment on the staff or internal processes of other institutions. Should any action be warranted by UCC in due course, UCC will follow up at that point.”

In a statement, the University of Dundee said: “There is an ongoing investigation into an allegation of research misconduct. In order not to prejudice in any way the outcome of that investigation, we are unable to comment further on it at this time.”

It added that a member of staff had been suspended pending the investigation being completed.

A spokeswoman for the Wellcome Trust said: “Wellcome takes allegations of research misconduct seriously. We expect institutions to investigate any allegation of misconduct, as the University of Dundee are doing in this case.”

Dr Ryan was not available for comment.