September 17, 2012

Editorial: Condemning Misuse of Research Funding

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A researcher at Weill Cornell Medical College cheated the federal government by misusing and then lying about funding intended for HIV/AIDS research, three federal appeals court judges said in a unanimous ruling issued Sept. 5. It is disappointing that this researcher both lied about the use of the funding and that Cornell has yet to admit responsibility or apologize for the transgression.

The decision comes in the face of strong evidence that Cornell researchers used money from the federal government for uses other than HIV/AIDS research. The court found that of all 165 of the patients that researchers saw, only three were HIV positive. Additionally, several fellows testified that much of the research that they performed under the grant program had no relation to HIV or AIDS at all. It is reprehensible that Cornell would take advantage of funding and use it for other purposes.

Cornell researchers have compromised the trust that the National Institute of Health placed in it to pursue meaningful research and jeopardized future research grants from the institution. It is disappointing that even after this court ruling, Cornell has yet to apologize or release a statement about the incident. In order to maintain a strong relationship with the NIH and ensure future funding, Cornell must admit responsibility.

It is concerning that Cornell has jeopardized such an important revenue stream for the medical college as it advances its mission. In 2011 alone, Weill Cornell Medical College received $113 million in NIH grants. These grants are critical to maintaining high quality research and instruction. In the grand scheme of all of the funding it receives, accepting responsibility and paying approximately $855 thousand in damages is trivial.

Cornell was not the only party that lost in this situation; the biggest losers are the ones who this critical research in HIV and AIDS would have benefited. Instead of racking up large legal fees defending the use of this funding, Cornell could have used this money more productively to further advance research that would help to  prevent and cure this debilitating disease.

Cornell must ensure that steps are taken in the aftermath of this ruling to ensure that grants are used appropriately and apologize for this particular research gone awry.

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