Scientist Says a Retraction Would Defame Her
WOBURN, Mass. (CN) - A scientist claims in court that the American Society for Nutrition will defame her if it follows through on its plan to retract an article on vitamin A-enhanced Golden Rice, which was published in its journal.
Guangwen Tang sued the American Society for Nutrition and Tufts University, on July 9 in Middlesex County Court.
Tang worked for Tufts University for more than 25 years as a research associate, laboratory director and associate professor. She has been a senior research scientist at Tufts' Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging since 2012, according to the lawsuit.
In 2003, Tang received a multi-year research grant from the National Institute of Health for more than $1 million to study genetically modified "golden rice."
"Under the NIH grant, Dr. Tang proposed to study golden rice, which is rice that has been genetically engineered to produce and accumulate ß-carotene, a precursor to vitamin A," the complaint states. "Dr. Tang's research focused on the benefits of golden rice to children who are vulnerable to vitamin A deficiency (VAD), a condition that causes blindness, exacerbates susceptibility to infections, and affects 124 million children worldwide, for many of whom rice is an important staple food. Specifically, Dr. Tang investigated how efficiently the ß-carotene in golden rice is converted to vitamin A once ingested."
The research included a field trial that Tang carried out in China's Hunan province in 2008, according to the lawsuit.
Tang says Tufts University and its institutional review board, which includes university faculty and staff and at least one community member, approved the research and field trial protocols for the golden rice study.
After completing the research, Tang wrote a scientific article titled "ß-carotene in Golden Rice is as good as p-carotene in oil at providing vitamin A to children." The American Society for Nutrition published the article in its journal in 2012.
"The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition" has thousands of subscribers and more than 3 million hits to its online journal site per month, according to the complaint.
Tang says the article got a lot of attention in the scientific community and has been downloaded more than 32,000 times.
Nevertheless, she claims, the American Society for Nutrition, which owns the journal and holds the copyright, told Tang that it planned to retract her article due to an investigation into her research protocol.
"In September 2012, allegations arose in Asia related to the conduct and oversight of the golden rice study," the complaint states. "These allegations caught the attention of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention ('Chinese CDC') who in turn questioned Tufts regarding the issues raised by various media outlets. In response, Tufts commenced two investigations with respect to the inquiries concerning the Golden Rice study."
After the study was published, anti-biotech campaigners at Greenpeace China accused Tang's research team of feeding children a "potentially dangerous product" without telling their parents exactly what the children were eating.
Chinese media claimed Tang and her collaborators in China had cut corners when it came to informing Chinese parents and authorities about details of the study. Chinese reporters found an email from a Chinese official involved in the study in which he explained that he was dropping any mention of genetic modification in some documents presented to the children's parents because it was "too sensitive," Nature magazine reported.
The university last year suspended Tang's human-subject research "pending further analysis," according to the lawsuit.
Although it found no evidence of research misconduct with respect to the study, and no health or safety problems, the university told Tang she would be subject to disciplinary actions regarding future research, she claims in the complaint.
Tufts barred Tang from doing human research for two years and said it would require her to undergo training in research on human subjects, according to a September 2013 Tufts statement.
Tufts also disclosed the results of the investigation to the Office for Human Research Protections within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and to the American Society for Nutrition, according to Tang's lawsuit.
Tang claims the information prompted the ASN decision to pull her article from its journal.
The retraction was scheduled for July 11, but the article was still available online on Tuesday, July 15.
Tang claims the retraction will damage her professional reputation.
She seeks an injunction and damages for defamation, breach of contract and interference with business relations.
She is represented by Steven Brooks with Deutsch Williams Brooks Derensis & Holland of Boston.
Attorneys for Tang and the American Society for Nutrition did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday.
Tufts said it had not been served yet and could not comment.