Milena Penkowa (born 1973) is a Danish neuroscientist who was a Professor at the Panum Institute at the University of Copenhagen from 2009–2010. In 2010 she was convicted of fraud and embezzlement of funds from The Danish Society of Neuroscience. In the same year, she was also suspended by the University of Copenhagen and consequently resigned her professorship. In 2012, the Danish Committees on Scientific Dishonesty concluded that she had been guilty of scientific misconduct.
She graduated from Kalundborg Gymnasium in 1991 and went on to study at the University of Copenhagen soon afterwards. Already in 1993 she was featured in a yearbook from the University for research. Again in 1994 her name was credited in an article on metal-binding proteins. She became assistant professor at the University of Copenhagen in 2000 and associate professor in 2002. In 2001 she published, along with her Spanish partner, Juan Hidalgo Pareja and two others, articles on metallothionein-containing liposomes which were published in May 2003. Her prolific research at Panum Institute at the University of Copenhagen from 2009–2010 mainly concerned the protein metallothionein. She received the Danish Elite Research prize in 2009.
In 2010 she was accused of scientific misconduct, as her graduate students were unable to replicate her previous results. Doubts arose about whether Penkowa had in fact carried out the experiments that she had reported. Penkowa was suspended from her professorship and research articles that she had authored were retracted from several journals. During the investigation, accusations of having misspent part of a 5.6 million kroner research grant were also leveled against her, and the University of Copenhagen paid back 2 million kroner to the donor. Fifty-eight Danish researchers signed a letter requesting an open review of Penkowa's research, citing suspicions about data fabrication going back to her doctoral thesis in 2002. Penkowa herself denied any wrongdoing, but resigned her professorship in December 2010.
In August 2012 an international panel of 5 researchers who had been carrying out an investigation of Penkowa's research for The University of Copenhagen concluded that there is "no doubt that there is justified suspicion of deliberate scientific malpractice in 15 of Penkowa’s articles." The University of Copenhagen have passed on the 15 articles for evaluation by the Danish Committees for Scientific Dishonesty, which will determine whether Penkowa's academic degrees should be declared invalid. Penkowa responded: "No-one is perfect, not even me, and there is no doubt that unforeseen errors could have been committed since I started working in a laboratory in 1993 and for that I apologise deeply. 'Deliberate malpractice' is another matter and something I have never done. I therefore do not think it is reasonable to infer that my research has been fraudulent as the press is doing these days."
In September 2017, the University of Copenhagen stripped Milena Penkowa of her doctoral degree, after determining she had covered up problems with her research.
- "Fraud investigation rocks Danish university". Nature. 7 January 2011. Retrieved 16 October 2011.
- Mette-Line Thorup (25 June 2009). "Krige kan også føre til noget godt" (in Danish). Dagbladet Information. Retrieved 16 October 2011.
- "Retractions by Milena Penkowa". RetractionWatch. Retrieved 16 October 2011.
- "All Milena Penkowa". UniversityPost. Retrieved 26 October 2011.
- "Milena Penkowa fights back in media interview". UniversityPost. Retrieved 26 October 2011.
- Copenhagen Post. "Controversial neuroscientist faces fresh fraud allegations" Peter Stanners 7 August 2012