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Continued: Scientists' feud in University of Minnesota cancer lab spills into courts

  • Article by: MAURA LERNER , Star Tribune
  • Last update: January 1, 2014 - 9:15 PM

A series of e-mails, included as exhibits in the suit, suggest that Bazzaro was losing patience with her junior scientist. In April, Issaenko asked if Bazzaro was sure she didn’t want to include a specific experiment in an upcoming manuscript. “Yes I am positive Olga,” Bazzaro replied. In June, in another exchange with Issaenko about the manuscript, Bazzaro wrote: “It is premature and quite frankly insulting from you to assume I would put unreliable data on a paper.”

After Issaenko lost her job July 1, she fired off a series of e-mails to Bazzaro’s superiors and fellow researchers, including the study’s chief scientist at Johns Hopkins University, raising concerns that her name was left off a manuscript that Bazzaro had submitted for publication. “I believe the intentions regarding these data are very clear — to publish/patent these data under Dr. Bazzaro’s sole authorship,” she wrote.

In August, Bazzaro discovered that Issaenko had included unpublished data in some of those external e-mails, and protested in an e-mail to U officials. “Unfortunately what I thought … was going to happen happened indeed,” she wrote. “Olga is distributing unpublished data from my laboratory. … She is pretending [these] are her data and she can do whatever she wants with it.”

In a separate e-mail, Bazzaro told her scientific collaborators that the data Issaenko had sent them “have not been validated and in some cases have been proved to be completely wrong.”

Restraining order, retraction

By that point, she added, Issaenko had been warned by University Police “not to communicate directly with me nor come anywhere near me” because of her “potentially dangerous behavior.”

Bazzaro eventually obtained a restraining order against Issaenko in March 2012, after reporting that she had received “at least 100 unwanted e-mails” from her former employee, some she described as scary. One listed “the five stages of dying,” according to court records; another said: “You might need protections. There is a knife for you, not me who is holding it, though.” Issaenko, in turn, alleges that Bazzaro once threatened to “destroy you.”

The conflict flared up again in December 2012, when Issaenko co-authored an article about the research in a scientific journal, Cell Cycle. After U officials protested to the publisher that “she was not authorized to submit manuscripts based on research or materials from Dr. Bazzaro’s laboratory,” the journal issued a retraction, which was later modified to an “expression of concern.”

In her lawsuit, filed Dec. 23, Issaenko argues that the university defamed her and damaged her reputation, and that it continues to use her copyrighted material without permission.

A university spokesman, however, says that in general, the university owns “the copyright on works created by U employees acting within the scope of their employment.”

The university’s legal office plans to examine the complaint closely, said spokesman Chuck Tombarge.


Maura Lerner • 612-673-7384

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