A scientist who confessed to faking the results of an AIDS vaccine experiment, and whose supposed success garnered millions of dollars in government grants, was sentenced on Wednesday to four years and nine months in prison.
Dong-Pyou Han, a former researcher at Iowa State University, was ordered to repay more than $7 million to the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH). The case is considered rare as most scientists who face research misconduct charges do not go to prison.
Han, 58, was forced to resign in 2013 after the university discovered he had fabricated and falsified the results of several HIV vaccine trials. In some cases, he admitted to spiking rabbit blood with human antibodies in his lab to make the vaccine appear more effective in the animals. After years of work and millions of dollars in grants from NIH, other researchers discovered irregularities in the findings and determined that his work, while once considered groundbreaking, was, in fact, bogus.
Han’s public defender, Joseph Herrold said that at first, the mix-up of samples was an accident. Han was then too embarrassed, he said, to admit his mistake so he continued to alter the samples as a cover-up. He pointed to Han’s lack of criminal record and asked that he be put on probation instead of prison time.
Prosecutors countered that prison time was necessary to deter future cases of fraud.