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On January 29, 2018, Wuhan University made an announcement after 2 rounds of investigations that Li Hongliang"s team had not conducted any academic fraud. The investigations were launched due to an academic misconduct report from Ho Wen-Zhe, who suspected academic misconduct in 2 Nature Medicine papers (CFLAR and TMBIM1 papers) published by Li Hongliang"s team.
Li Hongliang is the distinguished professor of "Cheung Kong Scholar Award" of Wuhan University. His team has been focusing on liver metabolic diseases for more than 10 years. Since 2016, Li Hongliang"s team has published 4 papers on Nature Medicine in the field of liver diseases.
Ho Wen-Zhe holds full professorship in both Wuhan University and Temple University. He lost his position as director of the Center for Animal Experiment of Wuhan University when competing with Li Hongliang and other candidates in 2015.
On April 2017, a report from Ho Wen-Zhe alleged that the CFLAR and TIMBIM1 papers of Li Hongliang"s team had academic misconduct. The Academic Committee of Wuhan University (hereafter referred to as "the Committee") immediately launched an academic investigation according to the Detailed Rules of Wuhan University for Investigation and Treatment of Academic Misconduct (hereafter referred to as "the Rules").
Li Deren, Fellow of Chinese Academy of Sciences and Chinese Academy of Engineering, and the Chairman of the Committee, said: "Li Hongliang is a doctor and professor of Renmin Hospital of Wuhan University. We therefore asked the Hospital to lunch the investigation after an internal investigation for 8 months."
On December 18, 2017, an independent panel including 5 experts (3 Fellows of Chinese Academy of Sciences from other universities), examined the original documents related to monkey purchase, verified original records of experiments and raw data, inspected monkeys used in the two papers, and listened to the presentations of Li Hongliang and the main experiment operators.
After the detailed investigation, the panel came to the unanimous conclusion that "there had been no forgery of scientific data."
However, on January 18, 2018, Ho Wen-Zhe published his suspicions again on a personal social network even without any direct evidence. The Committee then started a second investigation according to the report and further held an enlarged meeting of the Committee, attended by 14 members of the Committee (including 7 external peer experts) on January 26, 2018.
"The relevant records and data have been sealed up for safekeeping while the academic investigation was conducted to guarantee that all materials and data are real and valid." Wu Shijing, the deputy secretary-general of the Committee, said.
As for the actual number of monkeys involved in the two papers, the committee members verified the relevant documents on the purchase of monkeys, examined the original records endorsed by operators and the raw data, and listened to Li Hongliang"s presentation on the issue. The main experiment operators Fang Jing, Tian Song, Zhang Rui, Shen Lijun, and Wang Pixiao were inquired by the committee at site.
The verification made clear that 26 monkeys were used in 2 papers, including 10 in AAV8-GFP control group, 8 in AAV8-CFLAR (S1) group and 8 in AAV8-TMBIM1 group; the two papers share the same control group.
Wu Shijing said: "The original documents for application, purchase, transportation, feeding and the whole experimental process of the monkeys involved in the report are authentic. The records of the experiments are valid with complete procedures. No acts of counterfeiting has been found."
Ho Wen-Zhe also suspected the monkey experiment periods in the two papers were less than 30 weeks and 32 weeks respectively. Li Hongliang"s team presented all original records of the experiments, surgical records and original data to the committee. The committee members also inquired the main experiment operators about the experiment details at site, and inspected original documents for the submission, revision and publication of the two papers.
"The whistleblower thought the time of the first AAV injection was at May 2016." said Li Deren, "In fact, they (Li Hongliang"s team) performed the first portal vein injection in March, 2016. The injection in May, 2016 was the second time. Their first submission clarified the period as 20 weeks. Their monkeys were kept alive after 20-week"s examination, and the monkey experiment was still going on. When revising the papers, they updated the monkey data to 30 weeks and 32 weeks respectively, according to reviewers" suggestions. Therefore, there is no academic fraud."
After two rounds of investigations up to 9 months, the committee finally made an unanimous conclusion that Li Hongliang"s team had not conducted any academic fraud on the related contents involved in the report. There were some negligence in the writing of the papers and Li Hongliang"s team has been advised to be more rigorous and meticulous in the future.