A scientist was “dismissed” by the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Edinburgh, UK. All evidence points towards that it was the cell biologist Irina Stancheva who specialises on the epigenetics and regulatory methylation of DNA, and who departed from the university recently, after a forced leave. She also has an impressive record on PubPeer, where her publications where flagged for suspected data manipulations around 2 years ago. The suspicions were mostly of western blot band re-use and duplication. Around same time, an investigation started about these PubPeer issues, and by now Stancheva’s name does not feature of the Department’s list of academic staff. A archived version from December 2016 does feature Stancheva, but not that of August 2017. Her institutional website was deleted just hours after I sent my email inquiries to her former faculty colleagues. Continue reading “After misconduct investigation, Irina Stancheva left Edinburgh, in secret”
The London university UCL has now completed the investigation into the affair around their past honorary professor and now disgraced thoracic surgeon Paolo Macchiarini and the trachea transplants. Subject of the investigation were: the two plastic tracheas UCL produced (one sent to Karolinska Institutet and implanted in patient Andemariam Beyene in Stockholm, another used by UCL laryngologist Martin Birchall to treat Keziah Shorten, who previously received a cadaveric trachea from Macchiarini as requested by UCL) as well as four more cadaveric trachea transplants, namely the very first such intervention organised by Macchiarini and Birchall in Barcelona in 2008, on patient Claudia Castillo, as well as the three trachea transplants which took place under UCL oversight in London, on paediatric patients Ciaran Lynch, Shauna Davison and a 3-year old child who was transplanted just in May 2017 at the same Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH). The offhand revelations about the last transplant in this UCL report came as surprise, since it was otherwise kept secret.
No information is provided by the investigative report on how that child is doing now, in fact it seems no evidence like laboratory books, research data or patients’ medical files was ever requested and the committee relied solely on the opinions provided by the very people they were supposed to investigate: Paolo Macchiarini, Martin Birchall and GOSH paediatric surgeon and past director Martin Elliott. In fact, the report seems to become very nebulous or even creative with its use of alternative facts to avoid implicating Birchall in anything unethical at all. The only guilty party in this medical scandal is incidentally also the only non-clinician and the only non-white character in the entire Macchiarini affair: the nuclear physicist Alexander Seifalian, a Persian-Armenian and dual citizen of Iran and UK, whose lab manufactured two plastic tracheas. He was already sacked by UCL in July 2016, accused of bribery. Seifalian is also bowel cancer survivor, which did not prevent UCL of accusing him of failing to oversee the abroad clinical application of his produce just when he was receiving chemotherapy.
These are the results of UCL investigation in the nutshell:
- All UCL-employed clinicians involved in trachea transplants, in particular UCL’s chief trachea transplanter Martin Birchall, are fully acquitted from any suspicion of misconduct or clinical wrongdoing. Even Macchiarini seems partially exonerated from the gist of the UCL report, because:
- The maker of the two plastic tracheas, Alexander Seifalian, is to take all the UCL-related blame for the failed transplants (as well as other plastics implants in India, Iran and Switzerland). His fault is to have manufactured these products though his UCL lab lacked GMP (Good Manufacturing Practice) certificate. Only this lack of GMP-quality seal was what apparently made plastic tracheas too dangerous to implant in humans.
- All five cadaveric trachea transplants under the scope of investigation were considered ethically, medically and scientifically justified. Deaths of the patients were explained with new discoveries of recurrent cancer, or demands of other patients for the same hospital bed.
- Birchall’s clinical trials with cadaveric tracheas (phase 1/2a INSPIRE, and by extension, also EU-wide phase 2 TETRA) are to go ahead as planned and to recruit patients. Same positive recommendation for Birchall’s related trial RegenVox on cadaveric larynx, decellurised and “regenerated” with same technology as tracheas.
For the publisher Elsevier, antivax papers are apparently only a problem when they are too heavily manipulated. It took their journal 12 years to retract the notorious paper by Andrew Wakefield, because of data irregularities (details here and here). But the damage was done, an worldwide antivax movement was born, which keeps spreading bizarre and irrational paranoia that vaccines would cause autism in children (most recently supported by the disastrous US president Donald Trump, in tweets and in actual governmental policy). Vaccination rates dropped worldwide, and consequently deadly diseases considered long eradicated are making a comeback. But scholarly publishers and their journals bear here a heavy responsibility, by repeatedly publishing antivax papers and providing the anti-vax movement with the scientific legitimacy.
This was exactly what Elsevier did just now, again. Their Journal of Inorganic Chemistry published a paper by notorious antivax researchers Christopher Shaw, ophthalmology professor in the University of British Columbia, and his postdoc Lucija Tomljenovic. Both scientists enjoy full support of their Canadian university, despite that, together with another antivaxer, Yehuda Schoenfeld, they once had to retract a paper on the alleged neurotoxicity of aluminium adjuvant in vaccines, from the Elsevier journal Vaccine. The authors then simply republished the retracted masterpiece again in another journal, Immunologic Research, published by Springer.
The newly published Shaw paper in Journal of Inorganic Chemistry is again about alleged neurotoxicity of aluminium (or as authors prefer to call it, “aluminum”) , with a bold claim that it would cause autism in mice, as detected by some biomarkers authors saw as appropriate:
Recent news brought us yet another retraction of the Spanish zombie scientist Susana Gonzalez, formerly famous for her impactful ERC-funded research into stem cells and ageing. It is her fifth retraction (others here), and meanwhile Gonzalez is not even a zombie scientist anymore. She has no research group in her new Madrid institute, noone in Spain wants to work in the same building with her, in fact though she is still formally employed with the Spanish Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (CSIC), it seems she stopped coming to work long ago, being on an endless sick leave. Even the European Research Council (ERC), usually most accommodating with research misconduct of their elite grant recipients, didn’t know what to do with Gonzalez suspended €2Mn grant and eventually terminated it.
The recent Gonzalez retraction at the Molecular and Cellular Biology (MCB) is interesting in two aspects. First, Retraction Watch previously chastised the journal in a headline for allegedly refusing to investigate evidence of data manipulations in papers older than 6 years (read here). No reference is made to that “smear” accusation in the current Retraction Watch article on Gonzalez retraction. But the second aspect is really much more intriguing. The retracted MCB paper, from Gonzalez period as postdoc at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC) in New York, was coauthored by the US researcher Carol Prives, professor at the Columbia University in New York, and specialist for the cell cycle control protein p53: Continue reading “Carol Prives, innocent victim of Susana Gonzalez’ data manipulations?”
It is now quasi official: do not mess with Frontiers. My earlier reporting made it a credible possibility that this Swiss publisher was behind the January 2017 shut-down and removal of Jeffrey Beall’s list of “potential, possible, or probable predatory scholarly open-access publishers”, and it was now indeed verified by an article in Chronicle of Higher Education. The librarian Beall used to be constantly under attack from Open Access (OA) publishers who were unhappy about his personal opinions and his private decisions to place them on his blog list. With those, his University of Colorado in Denver supported Beall. But the trouble started when he placed in October 2015 the Swiss publisher Frontiers onto his list, thus effectively declaring this Holtzbrinck-owned outlet a predatory publisher, after hearing of scientists’ complaints and reading my reports. To be fair, Frontiers are still defended by a much bigger number of scientists who see the advantage of having a reliable business partner who will publish certain manuscripts which hardly any respectable journal might consider. Especially certain kinds of psychologists figured out that with the life-science-oriented Frontiers they can easily get merited as proper neuroscientists, or even biomedical polymaths (e.g., here). Regardless of the bunk they place there for $2500 a pop.
Frontiers first tried it nicely with Beall, when the Chief Executive Officer Frederick Fenter and journal manager Mirjam Curno (who is also trustee at Committee for Publication Ethics, COPE, read here) visited the librarian before Christmas 2016 in Denver (see my report here). Since Beall still did not remove Frontiers from his list, Fenter rallied its loyal journal editors and started together with them in August 2016 a campaign against Beall, demanding that his university punishes the librarian or at least forces him to remove Frontiers from his private list (read here). That information on my site served as (utterly uncredited) template for the aforementioned Chronicle of Higher Education article (as its author Paul Basken admitted to me, but his editor Brock Read denied). Basken then contacted Beall, who then also revealed to him that in January 2016 the University of Colorado Denver caved in to Frontiers demands and opened a misconduct case against its librarian. At this point, Beall decided to delete his list and save his job. An academic disagreement was resolved in a honed and cherished academic tradition: with a call to the employer and a threat of sacking.
The European Commission now took 40 days to deny my second Freedom of Information (FOI) Inquiry about the TETRA phase 2 clinical trial with cadaveric trachea transplant they are currently financing with €7 Million. This is EU’s second attempt to become world-leading manufacturer of industrial trachea transplants, after the €5mn Biotrachea led by the scandal surgeon Paolo Macchiarini was terminated mid-term. No, not because EU had any concerns for the patients, quite the opposite: he was given a clean ethics vote to go ahead. Biotrachea was terminated by the EU because the plastic tracheas Macchiarini wanted to use lacked novelty, as the documents I obtained revealed.
The TETRA trial, led by Macchiarini’s past collaborator, the UCL laryngologist Martin Birchall, was already on the brink of being terminated in the wake of the Macchiarini scandal, as EU previously indicated to me. Now, exactly the opposite happens. The trial is being prepared at full speed despite the fact that its predecessor phase 1 trial INSPIRE was suspended (because of my reporting), never recruited any of its four patients and it most likely never will. That trial is also led by Birchall (details here), it is likely that its Innovate UK funding has ran out meanwhile. EU however seems to signal that they will go ahead with phase 2 trial even if phase 1 never happens. After all, there are those 10 patients who received a cadaveric trachea transplant (here and below) and were operated under hospital exemptions between 2008 and 2012 by Macchiarini and Birchall. At least half of these 10 are dead, the lucky survivors either had their graft removed or live with permanently installed stents to prevent their rotting airways from collapsing (INSPIRE’s and TETRA’s clinical promise is actually that the patients will never need a stent). But this disaster seems exactly the reason for EU to try it again, and on a much, much bigger scale. Probably because it will create employment.
The EU spokesperson ceased long ago answering my emails, after I declined to be instructed over the phone (strictly off-the-record) why EU’s approach to trachea transplanting is right; this is why I had to resort to FOI. The official time limit to answer my FOI inquiry from July 1st 2017 was 15 days, but the EU first pretended not to have received my postal address, then said they need more time, then said they need extra time to assemble the documents for me, and finally, the Director-General of the European Commission, Robert-Jan Smits, wrote to me on September 11th. He basically told me again to get lost and that he will never release any information (read here his past rejection of my FOI inquiry). His reasons, as before: the trachea transplant trial is a business enterprise and revealing any of its progress might endanger the financial interests of its stakeholders, and then there are privacy concerns. Exactly, Smits decided that the public must under no circumstances find out whom exactly the EU is giving this public’s money for research on humans. I am not making it up, read Smits’ letter yourself here. Continue reading “EU commemorates dead patients of Macchiarini & Birchall with a phase 2 trachea transplant trial TETRA”
Regarding the Olivier Voinnet scandal and a recent data integrity case in Germany (marginally featuring a current group leader of the John Innes Centre in Norwich, UK), I had an email exchange with the director of this British plant science research centre, Dale Sanders. It started with Sanders demanding of me to cease-and desist from ever associating the misconduct-tainted cheater professor Voinnet with his John Innes Centre (despite that connection being very well-documented), and ended with Sanders calling me an “internet troll” and decreeing that my Voinnet reporting is not worth ever being read because it has not been peer reviewed.
The whole case revolves around the former star of plant sciences and current ETH professor Voinnet, though it is actually not at all about him or his own data manipulations. In July 2017, I brought an article, where concerns about the data integrity in publications of a very senior and influential German yeast biologist, Roland Lill, were raised on PubPeer. A past member of Lill’s lab, his PhD student Heike Lange, is now tenured researcher at the same CNRS institute in Strasbourg where Voinnet did most of his data manipulations. Lange has a number of papers which contain what clearly looks like duplicated western blot bands, she and LIll went to PubPeer to declare that the bands were never duplicated (details in my article). Yet Lange and Lill never substantiated their claims or showed any original gel scans for their common papers, which lets one wonder if those actually exist.
It turned out somewhat differently with another former PhD student of Lill, Janneke Balk, who is now the above mentioned group leader at Sanders’ John Innes Centre. Two common papers of Balk and Lill were flagged on PubPeer: Balk et al EMBO J 2004 and Balk et al, Mol Cell Biol. 2005. She has not managed to address the concerns about the former yet (more about it later), but she did reply on PubPeer to the evidence of gel band duplication by admitting the copy-paste, posting the original gels and explaining at length exactly which band was duplicated and why: