Lill space-time-blot anomaly in Marburg

Lill space-time-blot anomaly in Marburg

The biochemistry research lab of professor Roland Lill at the Philipps University Marburg in Germany is a place where space, time and western blot continuum collapses into an anomalous singularity, where paradoxes abound, but only one fact remains certain:  there was never any data manipulation in the lab of this senator of the German Research Council (DFG). Only misunderstandings (here) and solid science, with sometimes unorthodox figure assembly methods (here).

One of those anomalies is the recent correction by Lill and his former PhD student Heike Lange (now tenured CNRS researcher at The Olivier Voinnet Institute for Research Integrity in Plant Sciences (IBMP) in Strasbourg, France, published in the prestigious journal PNAS in March 2018. A western blot was found to contain duplicated, triplicated and mirrored bands, and was replaced with a version of same gel, its irregularities fixed. What exactly the new old figure shows, is not clear. The Ombudsman of Marburg University insists that no digital image versions of the western blot exist, only some almost two decade old thermo-paper printouts which were shared only with PNAS. Neither can those archive documents be scanned or photographed, as it will probably either destroy them, or alter the results they show. A PNAS editor however admitted to me that the correction actually shows a pdf file which the authors Lill and Lange supplied by email, a gel image which again seems to be different from the original thermoprinter records. Yet also this digital pdf file cannot be shared, probably because otherwise the time-space continuum will collapse and our universe, or at least the Marburg lab of DFG Senator Lill might end up teleported back into the year 1999, when the prints were made. And anyway, all two decade old experiments were faithfully reproduced by the Lill lab just now, using exactly same reagents. Those results however are also apparently not for sharing.

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Salk Gandalf Tony Hunter gets AACR prize for magic western blots

Salk Gandalf Tony Hunter gets AACR prize for magic western blots

Gandalf the Wizard has been awarded €75k in cash and Pezcoller-AACR International Award for Extraordinary Achievement in Cancer Research, for his magical western blots, where gel bands multiply under his spell to summon a bigger impact factor. Well, maybe not that Gandalf, but the bearded gel wizard Tony Hunter, of prestigious Salk Institute for Biological Studies (where impure womenfolk is not welcome) in San Diego, California, USA. On April 15th, Hunter will be giving a lecture at the annual meeting  of American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) in Chicago, and then go to beautiful Trento in Italy to pick up his award. All because of those western blots of his, which repetitive enchanted beauty was spotted by the image integrity sleuth Clare Francis and then posted on PubPeer. It was in fact Clare Francis who wrote to me to accuse Tony Hunter of being Gandalf The Wizard.

A breathlessly sycophantic article in San Diego Union Tribune described Hunter as “superstar” of 50 years productivity, congratulated him on his new Nature paper and the cash prize, for which the Salk Gandalf can probably buy himself a new BMW broom stick to whiz about, to and fro. That sum of €75k is actually poppycock compared to the $ half a million Tony the Wizard got from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences as Sjöberg Prize for Cancer Research, but that is probably intended as lab investment into more of his magic western blots. Probably as compensation for 2012, when Thomson Reuters, (past keepers of the sacred Impact Factor) requested for Gandalf The Western Blot Wizard the Nobel Prize.

So now, let us see what dashing sorcery the King of Sweden and AACR thought was so astounding to give awards for.

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Birchall’s two dead pigs to prove trachea transplants are safe

Birchall’s two dead pigs to prove trachea transplants are safe

Imagine you are Martin Birchall, laryngologist and ENT surgeon, star of regenerative medicine at UCL and trachea transplant enthusiast. You and your business partner Videregen need to explain to EU bureaucrats why your technology of decellurised cadaveric trachea is perfectly safe, what with all the dead patients of yours and your former best friend Paolo Macchiarini. Preclinical animal tests? Good idea indeed, though you have already published some very shady pig studies with Macchiarini in 2010, after you operated your first human patient in 2008 (whom you keep parading as success story of your stem cell magic superpowers, despite heavy complications which almost killed your research subject).

To distance yourself from that horrid Macchiarini, you do new preclinical tests. Enter three more pigs, which you decide transplant with a cadaveric decellurised human trachea. One trachea turns out to have been dirty not just with human “stem” cells, but also with pathogenic bacteria. So that one piggy got lucky and was set free. The unlucky other two: dead “of respiratory compromise”, one already after 12 days, the other suffered for a whole month after trachea transplant. You now have 100% preclinical mortality rate, and you still manage to convince the bureaucrats that the method works and 48 human patients must experience same, in the EU-funded phase 2 clinical trial TETRA. Thing is, that trachea transplant trial was supposed to help tracheal stenosis patients, by ridding them of burdensome stents and bronchoscopies, and not to euthanise them. Continue reading “Birchall’s two dead pigs to prove trachea transplants are safe”

University of Iceland: no formal legal sanctions against Macchiarini partner Gudbjartsson

University of Iceland: no formal legal sanctions against Macchiarini partner Gudbjartsson

The University of Iceland in Reykjavik previously published an external investigation report into the first ever plastic trachea transplant, performed by Paolo Macchiarini at the hospital of Karolinska Institutet (KI) in Stockholm, Sweden. The patient was Andemariam Teklesenbet Beyene, PhD student at University of Iceland, and the Icelandic surgeon who treated Beyene and then delegated him to Macchiarini for that deadly treatment was Tomas Gudbjartsson, professor of surgery at same university (see my report here). One year after the operation, when Beyene already started to suffer from the plastic trachea which eventually killed him, Gudbjartsson organised a conference on regenerative medicine in Reykjavik, featuring Macchiarini as guest of honour and Beyene as a kind of trophy.

The University now announces to investigate the circumstances of that conference, for which it apologises, and to host on June 1st 2018 a new one, on research ethics. Gudbjartsson will not suffer any disciplinary consequences, because he was said to have expressed sufficient level of protest against the attempts by Macchiarini and his acolyte Philipp Jungebluth to twist the patient abuse into a success story which they published in The LancetJungebluth et al, 2011. A paper which University of Iceland now describes as “objectionable”. Continue reading “University of Iceland: no formal legal sanctions against Macchiarini partner Gudbjartsson”

Princess Sabine, her Ombudsman chaperone and a frog

Princess Sabine, her Ombudsman chaperone and a frog

If you wish to report data irregularities, especially a recurrent pattern thereof, one is well adviced not to write to the scientist behind those published papers, but to the institutional Ombudsman. This is also what is recommended by the US Office for Research Integrity (ORI, here) and by two real-life whistleblowers from Sweden:

“Collect evidence, but don’t contact the accused with questions if you are certain that they fabricated data, because they may then hide their tracks. Identify the appropriate authority where misconduct should be reported; this could be at your own or the accused’s institution”.

My own experience with reporting evidence to institutional Ombudspersons is mixed. Some do not reply at all (one of those has actually shady data in his own papers), some eventually write something non-saying back, some do take the issue seriously. A German university Ombudsman quickly put right a professor and dean of her department, and issued an apology on her behalf, after she attacked me for disagreeing with her on the academic merits of predatory conferences and medals issued by the false Linköping University professor Ashutosh Tiwari.

The Ombudsman of the University of Osnabrück in northern Germany, when alerted to PubPeer evidence of some strange image duplications in papers by an Osnabrück plant scientist, acted differently. The Ombudsman, a law professor, indirectly threatened me with a libel lawsuit, and refused to process the notification. The next day, the plant scientist admitted duplications on PubPeer, one paper has been already extensively corrected. Continue reading “Princess Sabine, her Ombudsman chaperone and a frog”

Michael Persinger’s crank magnetism

Michael Persinger’s crank magnetism

“What about you? Do you find it risible when I say the name…”

Michael Persinger?

Either you are laughing already, or you wonder what this is all about. Both audiences will sure be entertained by the following guest post of my regular contributor, Smut Clyde. For this is about Professor Michael Persinger, born 1945, psychologist and “natural philosopher” at Laurentian University in Canada, smart dresser and undervalued science fiction writer. Undervalued, because the scientific community seems to take his Kilgore-Trout-esque output at face value, his academic peers really seem to think that was Persinger publishes on neuroscience, cancer, particle physics and virtually any topic which springs to his mind, is actual research. Scientific journals like PLOS One publish his science fiction short stories as peer reviewed works of science, while the revered PNAS and possibly also the less revered Scientific Reports invite him as guest editor to host fan fiction of his admirers. When Professor Persinger does get in trouble, it is never for impersonating a scientist, but for things like using rude words in the classroom.

No spoilers now, just read Smut Clyde’s guest post.

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EU trachea transplant clinical trial TETRA “uncertain to take place”

EU trachea transplant clinical trial TETRA “uncertain to take place”

The European Commission now admits to me, through European Ombudsman, that their €6.8 mn phase 2 clinical trial TETRA with cadaveric tracheas, led by the UCL laryngologist Martin Birchall is unlikely to ever recruit any patients, because “the current delay to the INSPIRE project therefore makes the prospects for the commencement and completion of the TETRA project uncertain“.

INSPIRE is a phase 1 clinical trial in UK, suspended since December 2016, which was about to recruit 4 patients for trachea transplants using the technology of cadaveric tracheas Birchall developed together with his former partner, the scandal surgeon Paolo Macchiarini. The UK trial was suspended by UK authorities because of my reporting, its funding ran out and it is unlikely to be ever resumed. Even the official sponsor of both INSPIRE and TETRA, Cell & Gene Therapy Catapult, sulkily announced to change the status of the former trial from “active, not recruiting” to “suspended” at the Clinicaltrials.gov website. And without INSPIRE (which EU Commission prefers to see as “delayed“, not as suspended) the phase 2 clinical trial TETRA becomes just a grave for tax money, but luckily not for patients. This is something however EU Commission sees no problem with, and these are their views declared to me in the nutshell, via a letter from European Ombudsman to whom I complained after my Freedom of Information request was rejected by EU Commission twice (here and here):

  • EU Commission refuses access to TETRA documentation because this could be “potentially causing reputational damage to the consortium and individuals linked to it“.
  • EU Commission sees no imminent “public health concerns or public benefits” because “the TETRA clinical trial is dependent on the successful completion of the INSPIRE project
  • The trial will not be terminated, and will simply trudge on until the end of its funding period on 31 December 2019.
  • EU Commission maintains that Macchiarini only transplanted plastic tracheas and had no contribution to the cadaveric trachea technology of INSPIRE and TETRA: “the scientific research involved in TETRA is pursuing a different method than the one developed by the doctor who has been subject to misconduct investigations
  • EU commission maintains that cadaveric trachea transplants, including those principal investigator Birchall was involved in, were either full successes (where patients survived) or they never happened (where patients died). The list of dead and mutilated patients who received cadaveric tracheas, which I specifically sent to EU Commission, was dismissed as not relevant for the current clinical trial

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