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Former Perelman School of Medicine professor William Armstead was found to have engaged in research misconduct.

Credit: Abhiram Juvvadi

A federal investigation concluded that former Perelman School of Medicine associate professor of anesthesiology and critical care William Armstead engaged in research misconduct, according to the case summary released on July 3. 

Armstead experimented on piglets to test possible treatments for traumatic brain injury in humans. The Office of Research Integrity, a federal agency within the United States Department of Health and Human Services, found that Armstead misrepresented the results of his research across a variety of materials, including published studies, grant applications, and progress reports. 

The ORI case summary states that Armstead “knowingly and intentionally” falsified or fabricated 51 figures, along with methods, data, and conclusions reporting, in five published studies. The research relating to experimenting on injured piglets was supported with grants from the U.S. Public Health Service.  

Armstead agreed to voluntarily exclude himself from research funded by the federal government for a period of seven years starting June 19, according to the case summary. He did not respond to requests for comment sent to his Penn email. 

The investigation began in summer 2022 after a peer-reviewed journal issued a full retraction of three of Armstead’s research papers. The advocacy group Stop Animal Exploitation NOW! demanded an investigation into allegations of research misconduct in a series of letters to the ORI. 

“When a journal made us aware of inconsistencies in data submitted by Dr. Armstead, we evaluated the concerns in accordance with our process and reported our findings to all appropriate agencies,” Penn officials wrote in a statement to The Philadelphia Inquirer in September 2022. “Dr. Armstead is no longer a faculty member at Penn, has closed his lab and ended his animal research activities.”

While the ORI investigation did not question the research techniques used to injure the pigs’ brains in Armstead’s research, SAEN said in its complaint letter to the ORI that the manipulation of data represented a misuse of the piglets’ lives that yielded no legitimate scientific result. 

“It is clear from the articles themselves that dozens of ‘newborn pigs’ were killed in what are clearly scientifically meaningless retracted studies,” Michael Budkie, executive director of SAEN, wrote in the letter.