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Are red wine's health benefits 'wishful thinking'?

The University of Connecticut fires a widely cited researcher accused of falsifying vino-boosting data — but don't put down the glass just yet

Some of red wine's purported health benefits are being called into question after a top researcher from the University of Connecticut was fired for allegedly fabricating data published in 11 scientific journals and cited frequently in the mainstream media. Could the libation's noted properties — which include burning fat and fighting heart disease — be mere "wishful thinking"? Here's what you need to know:

What happened?
Following a three-year investigation, the University of Connecticut Health Center fired red-wine researcher Dipak K. Das, saying he had falsified data on more than 100 occasions. The university notified 11 scientific journals, including the Journal of Cellular & Molecular Medicine and Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry, that the doctor's "prolific" work concerning resveratrol, a compound found in red wine, was in fact tainted. "The already shaky case for the anti-aging powers of resveratrol," says Scott Hensley at NPR, "is looking a little shakier."

How bad is the damage?
"The misconduct spanned seven years and 26 journal articles," says CNN. The 60,000-page investigation report says that Das, who was director of the university's cardiovascular research center, "manipulated research data in at least 145 instances" — possibly more. The investigation started in 2008 based on an anonymous tip. The university was forced to decline $890,000 in federal grants awarded to Das' lab while it rewiewed his work, which was concentrated on resveratrol and its relationship to heart health.  

What exactly did he fake?
The university hasn't outlined which studies are in question. But many of the discrepancies involve "western blot" figures, which are used to demonstrate protein interactions. "The review showed these images may have been manipulated to combine data from other experiments, which were passed off as coming from a single experiment," says Ryan Jaslow at CBS News.

How does that affect me?
You can still drink up. Das' research focused on heart disease, but that's just one of the health problems being targeted with resveratrol. There's still a "solid foundation" for many of the compound's benefits, Joseph A. Baur, an assistant professor of physiology at the University of Pennsylvania, tells CNN. "This will cause a little chaos," he says, but "research is not being brought to a screeching halt. The field will go on, even though this is something you never want to see."

Sources: CBS News, CNN, NPR, SF Gate

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