The Angelides Affair

A dispute over research fraud has split the faculty at Baylor College of Medicine, and could jeopardize the way universities police scientific misconduct

Because of the faked CV, Johnstone says, she asked for and received Angelides's resignation from the university. It was late in 1980 in the middle of the school year, she says, so she let him stay until July 1981.

"Since he was young," she says, "I agreed to give him six months" while he looked for a job elsewhere. Johnstone still recalls one of his parting comments: "He said I was making a terrible mistake; that he had brought notoriety to our department. I told him that was one thing we didn't need."

Asked these days about the McGill CV, Angelides denies through his attorneys that he did anything wrong. "The matters of McGill University were thoroughly investigated and there was a finding that Dr. Angelides did not commit misconduct during an initial inquiry," Pianelli wrote in a letter to Nature, a London-based scientific journal that first aired Johnstone's allegation. Calling the CV problems "slanderous accusations," Pianelli also wrote that they are "without merit" and are "brought for a vindictive purpose."

Despite his Canadian experience, Angelides obtained a research position at the University of Florida's College of Medicine. He became an assistant professor in the department of biochemistry and molecular biology at the Gainesville campus. There, according to one Florida scientist, he is remembered for "his active and probing mind," his charm and his charisma. "He could dazzle you with an enormous amount of research. His capacity to get experimental results was phenomenal. He was wonderfully aware of the literature," recalls the scientist, who only agreed to speak for this story anonymously.

But there was unease about Angelides's research at Florida, too. "Some faculty had concerns about how justified his conclusions were," the scientist says. "Senior faculty raised eyebrows that his work wasn't well replicated." In April 1984, the concern came to a head after Angelides delivered a lecture at a departmental seminar following his return from a sabbatical in Japan. The seminar was like a scientific bathing beauty contest; a time to show your latest stuff before it is published. After the lecture, the Florida scientist recalls, the unease about Angelides's research turned to open discussion: "We went, 'Woof!' " the scientist says. "It was hard to believe that he had done all that in a short period of time. A bunch of people felt that way."

Not long after the lecture that raised eyebrows, Angelides moved to the school's neurosciences department. Then, after a few months, he suddenly announced he was leaving Florida for Baylor, where he was offered a much-coveted professorship with tenure.

"After learning what happened at Baylor, a number of us felt we had dodged the bullet," the Florida scientist says.

Arriving at Baylor in 1986, Angelides joined a group of researchers focusing on nerve cells. It was a particularly dynamic time for such scientists. In the preceding years, revolutionary new genetic research tools had been discovered that permitted scientists to manipulate DNA like never before. Virtually overnight, the field of molecular biology was created -- with scientists able to alter DNA to produce laboratory-engineered proteins, the materials that are the building blocks of life. The proteins can be modified, tagged with radioactive material to chart their course during experiments, or fashioned to take certain paths into cells.

Using those techniques, Angelides was working to determine how nerve cells communicate, what substances they use to send messages and the routes the chemicals take between cells. One common route is through sodium ion channels -- in essence, the salt paths into the body's cells. By studying the recently discovered cellular pathways and their receptor entrances on the cell surface, the scientists hoped to learn ways to treat multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy and other diseases where the nerve and muscular actions go awry.

While neither Baylor nor Angelides will say which articles contain the fabricated research, the names of the journals in which the articles appear were revealed during a state court hearing on the Baylor lawsuit in December. They are in esoteric publications -- Brain Research, Glia, the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences and the Proceedings of the Royal Society of London. The fifth article, according to a deposition given by one of Angelides's superiors at Baylor, was in the Proceedings of the American Academy of Sciences. When Angelides was accused of padding his CV in Canada, one of the unpublished articles was to have been in this same journal. By scrutinizing Angelides's record of publications, one can see the articles Baylor disputes were published from 1989 to 1991 and involved experiments with engineered proteins, called monoclonal antibodies.

The court hearing where the articles were revealed was called before Judge Dwight Jefferson because of the conflict that the federal criminal inquiry posed to Angelides's suit against Baylor. Angelides had flown to Houston from England for a deposition, where he was to be questioned by Baylor attorneys. But a workday before the face-off, assistant U.S. attorney Peck contacted Angelides's attorney Pianelli and told him of the criminal inquiry.

Because anything Angelides said in the deposition in the civil case could be used against him in a criminal prosecution, Angelides declined to testify at the December 11 hearing, citing his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. "He was more than willing to submit to a deposition," says Rusty Hardin, who was hastily brought into the case because of the criminal aspect. But, Hardin adds, "It would be insane to allow anyone to be subjected to what Baylor wanted to do."

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