Red Wine Researcher Faked Anti-Aging Results

By Walter Armstrong 01/12/12

In vino veritas? Not for one fired U Conn prof, whose record was a little too sparkling.

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Fraudster Das and the grapes of wrath. photo

A prolific researcher into the benefits of red wine is a fraud, according to the University of Connecticut, whose Cardiovascular Research Center is headed by the biologist, Dipak K. Das. A three-year investigation by a U Conn review board released a report yesterday listing no less than 145 instances of falsified data in 26 articles published in 11 journals, the vast majority relating to Das's research into resveratrol, the "it" chemical of the 2000s.

Found in the skin of red grapes, resveratrol first gained fame as a possible solution to the so-called French Paradox: the fact that the French have lone had a much lower rate of heart disease than Americans despite consuming a high-fat diet. Their daily intake of red wine—high in resveratrol—may explain it. The chemical works as a powerful stimulant of a class of proteins called sirtuins, regulators of metabolism that appear to play a role in the aging process. This function led to an explosion of research into resveratrol's potential benefits as a molecular "fountain of youth."

Das rode this tide of grant money to the tune of millions of dollars. The tenured professor won plaudits for discovering that resveratrol could strengthen the hearts of rodents to the point that they could survive a typically lethal heart attack. Das is affiliated with the Las Vegas–based dietary supplement maker Longevinex, which sells a month's supply of resveratrol—"proven to activate longevity genes"—starting at $36.95. The website features a press release by the company's owner offering a spirited defense of Das, whose research using the Longevinex brand of resveratrol was bankrolled by the shop.

Das managed to secure millions in federal research grants, mainly because his string of "positive" test results contained many a fake pearl. With his studies due for retraction, that free flow of money is being flushed away: U Conn announced that it was returning to the federal government $890,000 in grant money awarded. Fired from U Conn, Das is reported to be in his native India at an alternative medicine conference and couldn't be reached for comment. His lawyer says that the fraud charges are not only baseless but provoked by anti-Indian bias.

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Walter Armstrong is the Medical Editor at  Saatchi & Saatchi Wellness and the former deputy editor of The Fix. You can find him on Linkedin.