A federal oversight agency claims it caught a Vanderbilt researcher falsifying findings on a cancer treatment, according to a September report. Now animal-rights group PETA is calling for a full audit to bring the private university’s publicly funded research into the light of day.
A U.S. Department of Health and Human Service’s Office of Research Integrity report  alleges that Dr. Nagendra Ningaraj, a former associate professor of neurological surgery and cancer biology at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, switched imaging results. Ningaraj's actions led the National Institutes of Health and the National Cancer Institute to believe a hair regrowth chemical increased delivery of a cancer drug to brain tumors — a finding for which he received a federal grant, the report says.
Ningaraj had presented his research to the American Association of Cancer Research in April of 2005.
Vanderbilt University Medical School spokesman John Howser said Ningaraj is no longer with the university and declined to offer specifics on the doctor or the specifics of the case, citing ORI regulation.
“I would love to unleash about PETA, but I cannot do that,” he said. “They seem to have picked up on a situation where our hands are tied.”
ORI and the National Institutes of Health declined to discuss the case with The City Paper.
PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), for its part, claims the ORI’s findings are only the latest wrinkle in a pattern of ethical misbehavior, and is calling for the agency to audit all records pertaining to publicly funded animal experimentation at the university.
“We think additional scrutiny of Vanderbilt research programs by the government may reveal additional malfeasance,” said PETA spokesman Justin Goodman.
In PETA's release, the ORI points to 69 alleged violations of the Animal Welfare Act by Vanderbilt research labs between 2004 and 2006. The release also referred to a USDA investigation looking into allegations made by an anonymous veterinary technician who claimed animals were being mistreated, but they could not be confirmed.
The USDA report may be in response to a July complaint filed against Vanderbilt by PETA regarding Vanderbilt’s lab practices. At the time, PETA spokesperson Anka Chandra said that she had been informed that the university had been mistreating its animals after to speaking to someone on July 8 who claimed to have had knowledge of such treatment.
Ningaraj completed his undergraduate degree and his master's degree in biochemistry at Mysore University in India. He received his Doctor of Philosophy in neurochemistry at the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences in Bangalore, India. After moving to the United States, he performed his postdoctoral research in pharmacology and medicinal chemistry at the University of Kansas.
He then moved to Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, where he was a group leader and principal sub-investigator in neurosciences research before moving to Vanderbilt.
Since leaving Vanderbilt, he pursued a Master of Business Administration degree from Mercer University in Macon, Ga.
Ningaraj has more than 12 national and international patent applications for experimental methods. He has published more than 30 articles covering a wide range of subjects in neuroscience and cancer research, and presented in national and international scientific meetings.