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Contractual ties trip up radiologist

Unapproved conference submission lands Sheffield researcher in strife. Zoë Corbyn reports

An academic has risked the wrath of her university by submitting results to a forthcoming conference without permission.

The University of Sheffield has claimed that the submission has been made in breach of a contract it has with a pharmaceutical company, which funds work in the scholar's field.

Guirong Jiang, a research radiologist who has worked at Sheffield for 13 years, is due to face a disciplinary hearing over her actions this week.

Her findings - submitted to a symposium of the European Calcified Tissue Society (ECTS), to be held in Glasgow in June - add to the debate over what some have claimed is a distortion in the field of osteoporosis caused by the over-diagnosis of vertebral fractures.

This is the main way in which the condition is diagnosed.

Sheffield has censured her for making the submission without the consent of her supervisor, Richard Eastell, head of Sheffield's Academic Unit of Bone Metabolism.

It said her actions breached the terms of a 2007 contract the unit has with pharmaceutical manufacturer Sanofi-Aventis to conduct studies relating to the osteoporosis treatment risedronate, which is sold as the drug Actonel.

It also said Dr Jiang failed to follow "reasonable requests" to withdraw the submission.

Dr Jiang said she believed her results should be published as they had not been reflected in the unit's previous output.

She added that last December she was informed that her contract would not be renewed when it came to an end this March, which she said had prompted her to throw caution to the wind and publish without permission.

She has queried whether her work is bound by Sheffield's Sanofi-Aventis contract, which stipulates that the company must be allowed to review manuscripts and abstracts prior to publication.

She pointed out that the work was carried out in 2002 when the unit's risedronate work was funded by Procter & Gamble in partnership with Aventis. Dr Jiang added that she had not seen or signed the full Sanofi-Aventis contract.

Last week, she received an email from her head of department, Peter Croucher, in which he says he has "reflected on the submission of the abstract to the ECTS, and on balance am happy for this to proceed", although he adds that he needs to inform the sponsor.

However, he says that he "still has considerable concerns over (Dr Jiang's) conduct in this matter, and will consider the most appropriate way forward".

The disciplinary hearing, scheduled to take place on 18 February, will consider the allegation that Dr Jiang "acted inappropriately in making a direct submission of an abstract to a journal outside unit protocol and in contravention of the terms of the research contract".

It will also consider the charge that she "failed to follow a request by her head of unit and head of department to rectify her actions", which "aggravated a situation which otherwise could have been quickly resolved".

zoe.corbyn@tsleducation.com.

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