A long-standing dispute between two Temple scientists over stolen heart research and a startup that utilized that research has now led to a federal lawsuit.
The medical field is full of people trying to find innovative new ways to treat disease and illness. And unlike many other industries, the stakes at play are not solely financial, often influencing whether people live or die. Moreover, with heart disease being the leading cause of death in the United States, people are paying attention to this dispute involving stolen research and potential misconduct.
It all started with the research of Steven Houser, a former president of the American Heart Association. Houser instructed his lab at Temple University to induce heart attacks in pigs, which have similar-sized organs to humans, in hopes of finding cures for human heart disease. The results proved promising.
The dispute began when another scientist and colleague, Arthur Feldman, went to get some of Houser’s samples for his own experiments in 2014. According to Feldman, a former dean of Temple’s medical school, Houser gave him permission, and at the time, a graduate student handed over the samples. Houser, who claims to have only discovered the exchange in 2017, has denied ever giving him permission.
Part of the contention between the two are Houser’s allegations that Feldman used the samples and data derived from the samples to help his startup, Renovacor. He claims that the data and samples helped the company, which is now to be sold in a deal worth $53 million, secure $11 million in venture capital funding.
But there is far more going on behind the scenes. The dispute between the two over stolen research has now become the subject of a federal lawsuit. It is matched by an investigation into potential misconduct in many other studies by scientists at the institution.
Many years ago, Houser found himself involved in stem cell research in hopes of finding a way to repair the heart after a heart attack. During that time, a paper he authored contained an image that Harvard officials believed might have been fabricated. Houser denied it and performed a new set of experiments, with the images from it being accepted by a journal.
However, Temple officials launched their own investigation into the matter in 2019, which escalated the next year as they began investigating potential misconduct in an additional series of papers he authored. This time, it was at the request of federal officials, and it all stemmed from the same concern — images that seemed off.
While Houser claims that the investigation was launched to pressure him into dropping his complaints regarding the stolen samples, Feldman tells things differently. According to him, Houser agreed to share the samples and data, even signing off on an application for federal research funds. Additionally, Feldman claims to have offered him the chance to purchase shares in Renovacor, which Houser declined.
According to Feldman, Houser believed the company would not succeed and only started to make trouble when it received financing.
While the federal lawsuit will reveal more, one thing is for certain — in this case involving allegedly stolen heart research, nobody wins, regardless of whether studies have been manipulated or scientists are putting greed over saving lives.
Spencer Hulse is a news desk editor at Grit Daily News. He covers startups, affiliate, viral, and marketing news.