SAN DIEGO — A prolific young cardiac researcher who was being considered for appointment to a professorship in the UC San Diego School of Medicine has resigned amid allegations that he falsified research data in at least two recently published reports, The Times has learned.
Dr. Paul J. Friedman, an associate dean in the school, said in an interview Wednesday that university officials have found that Robert Slutsky fabricated research results in three cases, two of which were published and a third submitted for publication. Friedman said officials expect to find additional instances of fabrication when they scrutinize all of Slutsky's extensive research.
According to Friedman, university officials believe Slutsky recycled data from earlier research into new reports, naming as co-authors professors and researchers who never took part in the work. In some cases, Friedman said, the names of the co-authors were even misspelled.
"He had been a very successful and hard-working researcher," Friedman said. " . . . the individual had so many accomplishments, it is very difficult to figure out why (he) found it necessary to embroider new ones."
Slutsky, who resigned in late April, could not be reached Tuesday or Wednesday for comment. He has sold his house in Mission Hills and apparently moved away from San Diego. A New York City lawyer who represents Slutsky also could not be reached late Wednesday after the interview with Friedman.
Friedman said the university has asked Slutsky to retract the two articles based on allegedly fraudulent research. They were published last spring in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. Friedman said Slutsky's lawyer has not agreed with the wording proposed by the university. He said the university will go ahead and retract the research even if no agreement is reached.
Friedman said the university's investigating committee found that one of the two reports, based on research on dogs to test the use of steroids in treating heart attack patients, might have been misleading within the medical community.
But he said neither study is believed to have affected patient care. "No one will alter clinical management of a real patient on the basis of a dog study," he said. "It might lead one to want to do a controlled clinical study."
The university also has reported its findings to several foundations that may have paid for the allegedly phony research or related research by Slutsky, Friedman said. He said those include the National Institutes of Health, the American Lung Assn. and several foundations that had presented Slutsky with research awards.
"We anticipate that we will find other papers which appear to be unsupportable for one reason or another," Friedman said. "We also hope to come up with answers to a couple of questions . . . such as, is this something that could have been picked up earlier, and was the university supervising him adequately?"
Questions about Slutsky first arose last spring when faculty members considered his application for the job of cardiac radiologist--a full-time faculty position involving teaching, clinical work and research, Friedman said.
Slutsky has published more than 100 papers, many in the field of cardiac radiology, the assessment of heart function through X-rays and other techniques.
"To the distress of the people reviewing his work preparatory to writing some letters of recommendation, they found some questionable tables in one of his publications," Friedman said. Upon closer scrutiny, the professors reviewing the application raised other questions about the validity of some of Slutsky's work, Friedman said.
Friedman said Slutsky was unable to answer the professors' questions. So they referred the results of their informal investigation to the office of the dean, following department protocol. After that, a second faculty committee began a formal investigation in early May.
Resigned in April
Meanwhile, Friedman said, Slutsky spontaneously submitted a letter of resignation dated April 30. Friedman said the letter stated simply that Slutsky believed that it would be best if he severed his relations with the university and pursued a private practice in cardiology. Since then, Friedman said, Slutsky has not contacted the university, and all communications have come through his lawyer.
The new committee appointed for the formal investigation conducted interviews and reviewed papers and research records between May 7 and June 18, Friedman said. He said a report of its conclusions was sent to Slutsky's attorney so Slutsky might respond. Friedman said the university has received no response to the charges.
According to Friedman, the seven-member committee concluded unanimously that Slutsky had "fabricated or falsified many of the research findings in at least these three papers."