UHN sticks by researchers’ punishment
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Feb 04, 2016  |  Vote 0    0

UHN sticks by researchers’ punishment

Told by court to reconsider, health network shrugs off quashing of two findings against high-profile doctors

OurWindsor.Ca

The University Health Network has levied the exact punishment against two Toronto cancer researchers that an Ontario Divisional Court had ordered it to reconsider, the Star has learned.

Dr. Sylvia Asa and Dr. Shereen Ezzat were informed in writing Thursday that the UHN’s original sanctions against them — including the suspension of their collaborative-research labs — would remain the same.

The latest development in the ongoing saga arrives less than two weeks after Ontario Divisional Court quashed two of the three research misconduct findings against the husband and wife medical team.

In its concluding remarks late last month, a panel of three judges ordered UHN to reconsider the sanctions it had imposed on the couple and pay them $20,000 to cover legal costs.

UHN, however, denied ever finding the two doctor’s personally responsible for falsifying and fabricating images, describing this as a “mistaken belief” in its February 3 letter addressed to the researchers. “Let us be clear — we never interpreted the (investigative committee’s) decision this way,” wrote UHN vice-presidents Christopher Paige and Dr. Charles Chan in the letter obtained by the Star.

The researchers’ lawyer, Brian Moher, said Thursday that the hospital’s latest actions come across as “a total lack of responsiveness” to the “unequivocal findings of the court.”

“Suggesting that the court was ‘mistaken’ in its understanding of this matter, in my opinion, undermines the principles of the entire justice system,” he said. “As a general rule, anyone who denies the clear findings of the court declares that court a toothless tiger.”

Asa and Ezzat were unavailable for comment.

On Jan. 22, 2016, the Divisional Court overturned the UHN investigation that found, in the court’s words, that the Toronto physicians had “falsified and fabricated images in a number of research articles.”

The panel of three judges did, however, uphold a separate finding that Asa and Ezzat both committed research misconduct in the form of “material non-compliance,” meaning they failed to comply with publication standards in scientific journals.

In their letter, Paige and Chan explained that this finding alone warranted the original sanction. “We continue to believe that the sanction communicated in our October 22, 2014 letter is fair, reasonable and appropriate,” they said.

UHN spokesperson Jane Finlayson declined to comment.

The decision to uphold the original sanction brings Asa and Ezzat’s legal battle against the hospital to an uncertain standstill. Moher declined to discuss the doctors’ next step.

The prominent pair made headlines last summer after the Star reported three scientific journal articles they co-authored were retracted and an editor’s note cautioning readers of possible inaccuracies was placed on a fourth. The retractions were prompted by the findings of a UHN internal investigations committee, which found the presence of “manipulated and/or fabricated data” in the form of several figures and microscopic images used in the papers.

Both Asa and Ezzat fought against the investigation by appealing its findings to UHN president and CEO Dr. Peter Pisters. He dismissed the appeal and upheld the sanctions.

World-renowned experts in the early detection, diagnosis and treatment of hormone-producing tumours, both doctors had a long way to fall. They have authored nearly 100 papers together. Before resigning from her leadership position last spring, Asa had run Canada’s largest hospital diagnostic laboratory, at UHN, for 15 years.

Her published works alone have been cited more than 15,000 times in medical and scientific journals around the world.

Toronto Star

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