University of Dundee scientist resigns after research misconduct

One of Scotland's most acclaimed young scientists has resigned his post and been stripped of a prestigious fellowship after being found guilty of serious research misconduct.

Ryan was working on new treatments for infection associated with cystic fibrosis. Picture: Getty

Dr Robert Ryan, widely recognised for his pioneering work in the field of molecular bacteriology, has stepped down from the University of Dundee after a series of allegations against him were upheld.

As revealed by Scotland on Sunday, the institution launched an internal investigation amid claims Ryan had falsified and duplicated crucial research.

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He was suspended pending the completion of the investigation into allegations he used identical images across multiple papers that had been published in scientific journals, claiming they were different strains.

The subsequent inquiry found Ryan had “seriously breached” good practice, a finding that was upheld on appeal. Ryan has since resigned from the university.

In an internal email sent by Professor Julian Blow, Dean of the School of Life Sciences at Dundee, the extent of Ryan’s misconduct was made clear.

The email stated: “The university has recently undertaken an investigation into an allegation of research misconduct. This investigation confirmed that Dr Ryan seriously breached normal scientific practice in several scientific publications before and after he joined the university, including misrepresentation of clinical data and the duplication and misrepresentation of images in 12 different publications.

“An appeal has been heard, which upheld a decision of serious research misconduct. Dr Ryan has now resigned his position and is no longer employed by the university. No other members of staff at the university were implicated in the allegations.”

As the author or co-author of more than 100 published papers, Ryan was regarded as one of Europe’s most promising young microbiologists.

The award-winning senior research fellow worked at the forefront of global research which could lead to new treatments for infections associated with cystic fibrosis.

As a principal investigator at the university’s division of molecular microbiology, he oversaw a seven-strong research laboratory, specialising in studying the signalling processes that occur within and between pathogenic bacteria during chronic infections.

Ryan joined Dundee from the University College Cork (UCC) in February 2013. Following the completion of the investigation, the Irish institute has launched its own inquiry.

In addition to receiving nearly £1.1m in grants during his career, Ryan won a clutch of awards, including the Society for General Microbiology’s Fleming Prize, the Royal Society of Edinburgh’s Patrick Neill medal, and the Society for Applied Microbiology’s WH Pierce Prize.

Ryan’s groundbreaking work also led to him winning a senior fellowship with the Wellcome Trust, which has since been terminated.

The European Molecular Biology Organisation has also removed Ryan from its coveted Young Investigators network, but questions remain over what – if any – action other grant-making bodies will take.

Science Foundation Ireland, a Dublin-based statutory body which provided Ryan with grants totalling £415,000, said it had been informed by an Irish university it had launched an investigation into a “potential breach of research integrity”.

The foundation said it would await the investigation’s completion before appointing a firm of independent auditors to “report on whether the proper procedures have been followed and whether the weight of evidence supports the conclusions drawn.”

In a statement, the University of Dundee said: “Our investigation found that the individual had committed serious research misconduct. Following the conclusion of the investigation, the individual has left the university. The university is satisfied with its investigation and is committed to learning lessons from it.”

It added that the university was informing “relevant interested third parties,” including funding partners, of the results of the investigation, and was “notifying the relevant journals in order for the scientific record to be corrected accordingly”.

Ryan was unavailable for comment.