The mysterious public career execution of Robert Ryan

The mysterious public career execution of Robert Ryan

On August 24th I received an anonymous email over my website from a „Concerned Microbiologist”:

“I would like to bring the following to your attention on Robert P Ryan at the University of Dundee.
He holds several high profile research grants and has won several awards. He is under investigation at the University of Dundee.
He has also featured in articles signing his praises in terms of his research achievements.

Only days after, on August 28th, big news broke out in Scottish and Irish media. The Scotsman brought the headline: “Leading scientist suspended amid ‘research misconduct’ investigation”.  The newspaper then indicated that Ryan has to answer for suspected image manipulations in his papers:

“It is alleged he used identical images across multiple papers, claiming they were different strains. In some cases, it is alleged the evidence was flipped or rotated, which could indicate an “intent to deceive”, according to one source. The extent of the alleged misconduct is unclear, but the source indicated it is alleged to have spanned “a number of years” and involved numerous prestigious journals”.

Similar reports appeared on the same day in The Irish Times, The Courier and Herald Scotland, the latter also wrote:

“It is understood his research group at the university has been dissolved, with PhD students and staff scientists reallocated elsewhere while a formal investigation takes place”.

Continue reading “The mysterious public career execution of Robert Ryan”

How UCL throat surgeon Martin Birchall misleads patients and tricks public funders

How UCL throat surgeon Martin Birchall misleads patients and tricks public funders

This is a new instalment of my investigation into UK and EU funded clinical trials on trachea replacement by the throat surgeon Martin Birchall at UCL. The method of using bone marrow cells to regenerate a dead decellurised donor trachea was developed by Birchall together with Paolo Macchiarini, and tested since 2008 on several human patients, with catastrophic results. Macchiarini by now is a pariah sacked by his formerly proud employer, the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, but Birchall was given further millions in British and EU money for his human trachea transplant experiments.

I finally obtained the patient information brochure for such phase 1 clinical trial INSPIRE, which was consistently denied to me by all participants. The information therein, or rather the strategic lack of it and the consequential wilful misleading of prospective patients, is truly scandalous. There is no mention whatsoever of any of the previous trachea transplant experiments Birchall performed and the clinical outcome of which he likely misrepresented in order to obtain this very funding and even his current full professorship at UCL (with the help of Macchiarini, see page 43 of his CV). His described strategy of transplant preparation and implantation seems scientifically nonsensical, while suggestive of medical obfuscation and even deceit. Now that I finally received the INSPIRE patient information sheet, I understand why the consortium partners preferred in to be hidden from public scrutiny.

For the scientific and medical ethics background of this complicated case, please refer to my earlier reporting (in chronological order):

Continue reading “How UCL throat surgeon Martin Birchall misleads patients and tricks public funders”

Maria Fousteri, the ERC-funded western blot cheater

Maria Fousteri, the ERC-funded western blot cheater

Maria Fousteri is a highly successful Greek molecular cell biologist who studies the molecular mechanisms of DNA damage repair in human cells and their protective roles “against mental dysfunction or cancer”. Her works in the field of nucleotide exchange repair and epigenetic chromatin remodelling, done at the Leiden University Medical Center (LUMC) in the Netherlands in the department led by the LUMC professor Leon Mullenders, appeared in elite journals such as Molecular Cell.  These publications, described to me by a leading DNA repair researcher as “definitely major papers in the field” consequently helped Fousteri to an ERC starting grant of €1.5 Million for her research project “TransArrest” in 2012. Her young ERC-funded lab is located at the Biomedical Sciences Research Center “Alexander Fleming”in Greece, 20 km south of Athens.

The economic crisis-struck Greek science community should surely be rejoicing about such success of their returning top-scientist, with the most prestigious EU funding award from the ERC in tow. Instead, Fousteri’s colleagues at Alexander Fleming recently learned that a LUMC investigation found her guilty of data manipulations and research misconduct in 5 publications. Once again, it is about western blots. Images were re-used in unrelated context, lanes spliced and occasionally even bands duplicated inside a continuous gel image. The DNA nucleotide exchange repair specialist Fousteri seems to be just as professional in exchanging of western blot bands. These are the five papers, the first four (all in Molecular Cell) were recommended for retraction: Continue reading “Maria Fousteri, the ERC-funded western blot cheater”

Growing hearts in Hannover: a job opening

The Medical University of Hannover (MHH) in the German Lower Saxony is searching to recruit a professor who can grow human heart tissue from stem cells (see official call here). If you think you are the right kind of miracle doctor, you must hurry to apply: the deadline is August 26th 2016.

The recruiting MHH department is the clinic for heart, thorax, transplant and vascular surgery and its subdivision of the Leibniz Research Laboratories for Biotechnology and Artificial Organs (LEBAO). LEBAO was established by the heart surgeon and clinic head Axel Haverich, whose goals included creating stem cell-derived organs such as tracheas (hence the transient recruitment of the now disgraced thorax surgeon Paolo Macchiarini to his MHH department at the beginning of the century). Both Macchiarini’s and Haverich’s main objective was to grow a living human heart in a plastic box inside tissue culture incubator (the contraption is also known under the more fancy term “bioreactor”). In fact, Haverich repeatedly predicted to be able to achieve this even before his upcoming retirement (see my report here). The method was originally supposed to be that of stripping dead donor hearts of living tissue and seeding these carcasses with “magic” bone marrow stem cells. Later on, Haverich imagined it more high-tech: 3D laser printers would shoot cells of various types into a shape of a heart, and voila, it would come alive and start beating, ready to save another human life. Continue reading “Growing hearts in Hannover: a job opening”

Frontiers reviewer told: don’t be strict, endorse paper, reports Giulia Liberati

Journal peer review is a mysterious black box all scientists fear. The task of the reviewers is to help authors to improve their manuscripts scientifically and to help journal editors to weed out scientifically substandard and inappropriate works. That’s the theory anyway, in practice there are good reasons why the peer review process is traditionally something to be hidden by all means from the readers of published papers. Probably to avoid occasional shock, disgust  and repulsion, similar to how the supermarket customers should by no means be made aware of the true origins of industrially raised meat. In a kind of a vicious circle, this peer review secrecy is a direct invitation to rig it even more. Editors tend to assign friendly reviewers according to authors’ eminence, while peer reviewer conflicts of interests are routinely disregarded, since no one will ever find out anyway. In the same vein, scientists who made themselves some powerful enemies will see their manuscripts destroyed by unreasonable and aggressive peer review. They often naively hope the editor was decent enough not to invite those same adversaries whom the authors specifically asked to be excluded. Continue reading “Frontiers reviewer told: don’t be strict, endorse paper, reports Giulia Liberati”

Does ERC help cheaters pay protection money?

Does ERC help cheaters pay protection money?

Did you ever wonder why certain zombie scientists were still in academic jobs? Despite having been caught on data manipulation or biomedical ethics breach?

It seems the answer is simpler than you thought. They are paying for their protection, by giving pizzo to their crooked research institutions, just as in some unoriginal mafia film. Well, actually YOU are paying their pizzo, through your taxes, which in turn are awarded to these zombie scientists as public research funding, from the national, international and European funding agencies. In fact, the most prestigious and self-important European funding agency ERC is completely unprepared or maybe just unwilling to respond to evidence of research misconduct by their elite grant recipients.  

My understanding is provocative, and I may be utterly wrong. But absent of any reasonable alternative explanations, let us for a moment go with this one. I will provide you with examples where questionable European scientists surprisingly retained their European funding unquestioned (or even received fresh millions of Euros), and coincidently or not,  many institutions did not at all mind to keep them in their jobs. Continue reading “Does ERC help cheaters pay protection money?”

The smelly compost heap of plant-based nanoparticles

A gang of Indian nanotechnology scientists, allegedly from Annamalai University in India, placed in 2014-2015 several papers in different journals, all of them about nanoparticle synthesis using extracts from various local plants. Most papers went into the journal Spectrochimica Acta Part A: Molecular and Biomolecular Spectroscopy, published by Elsevier. The publications were harshly criticised on PubPeer for their poor science, but also for suspected data manipulations (electron microscopy images, photographs of bacteria dishes and X-ray diffraction measurements were reused across different unrelated papers, see PubPeer examples below).

Five nanotechnology papers at Elsevier are now about to be retracted, at least four of them from Spectrochimica Acta Part A. The concerns about research quality and data integrity may have been however less decisive here. The faculties of the Annamalai University carry no mention of any of these authors as their members, all of the provided corresponding email addresses are from Gmail. A publishing scam, possibly including fraudulent peer review, is the likely reason why these papers are being retracted now. Continue reading “The smelly compost heap of plant-based nanoparticles”