The Swedish Karolinska Institutet (KI) has investigated its own cell biologist and well-funded autophagy researcher Helin Vakifahmetoglu-Norberg, following my publishing of a dossier with evidence for data manipulations in her papers. Also PubPeer evidence was considered. This was a second investigation of Vakifahmetoglu-Norberg, who was fully acquitted by KI already in 2016. While the new KI investigation progressed, one of Vakifahmetoglu-Norberg’s publications was retracted (Shen et al, Oncogene 2008), due to image duplications and unavailability of original data. With their second decision, KI again exonerated  Vakifahmetoglu-Norberg from all suspicions. One of the reasons was: since the Shen et al 2008 is retracted, it ceases to exist. Hence, all image duplications it shares with other Vakifahmetoglu-Norberg papers cease existing also. Other arguments were the author’s assertions to have reproduced more than 10 year old results faithfully (since the original data was unavailable), or her presenting evidence that similar looking images were in fact dissimilar. Unfortunately, where such original data could be recovered, it was shown only to internal investigators at KI, noone else. The case is closed, no appeal is possible. There will be no corrections even, unless journals do the unlikely thing and decide not to accept the KI decision.

Another Vakifahmetoglu paper (Imreh et al, J Cell Biol. 2011) is still under KI investigation but she has officially nothing to do with it. KI announced to follow this through with her former boss and the paper’s last author, Boris Zhivotovsky. He is under another KI investigation already, together with several of his colleagues including the  department’s prefect Ulla Stenius (see my report here), who received the KI letter about  Vakifahmetoglu whitewashing in cc. 

This is the English text of the KI decision letter I received regarding 8 publications and 1 corrigendum (English original here, Swedish version is available here), followed by the letter regarding the Imreh et al 2011 paper.  I illustrated the KI letters with evidence from PubPeer and my own site, and added some hyperlinks.


Decision

The case warrants no further consideration.

The case

On 7 October 2016 Leonid Schneider warned in an article on forbetterscience.wordpress.com of inaccuracies in scientific papers. On 9 October 2016, Andreas Muller reported ten scientific papers published on pubpeer.com written by, amongst others, Professor Boris Zhivotovsky and research associate Helin Vakifahmetoglu-Norberg.

On 6 December 2016, the editor-in-chief of Cell Death & Differentiation, Gerry Melino, requested an investigation into Ms Vakifahmetoglu-Norberg regarding three articles: 1) DNA damage induces two distinct modes of cell death in ovarian carcinomas; 2) Death through tragedy: mitotic catastrophe; and 3) Caspase-2 promotes cytoskeleton protein degradation during apoptotic cell death.

On 27 March 2017, the executive editor of the Journal of Cell Science, Sharon Ahmad, raised concerns about the article “Chromosomal breaks during mitotic catastrophe triggeryH2AXATM-p53-mediated apoptosis”. This article was treated as case no. 3902-2. The other nine articles are treated in this present case.

The investigation

Helin Vakifahmetoglu-Norberg issued her statements regarding the complaint on 22 November 2016 and 2 June 2017. Professor Boris Zhivotovsky issued his on 9 and 27 April and 13 June. Project coordinator Gabriela Imreh issued her statement on 20 April 2017.

  1. Functional connection between p53 and caspase-2 is essential for apoptosis induced

by DNA damage (Oncogene, 2006)

The article is over ten years old. The comments on pubpeer.com relate to duplicated panels in fig. 3A and 4A and to similarities between fig. 3A in this article and fig. 4A in “PRIMA-1 MET…” (see item 3 below).

Helin Vakifahmetoglu-Norberg replies that the experiments have been redone and the results show that there are no differences to the original work. The comment on the similarities between this article and “PRIMA-1 MET…” has been dismissed as the latter article has since been retracted.

[PubPeer evidence below, -LS]

 

 

  1. Death though a tragedy: mitotic catastrophe (Cell Death & Differ, 2008)

The comment on pubpeer.com concerns identical images in two different articles.

Helin Vakifahmetoglu-Norberg replies that the same picture was used since the paper was a review article in which the original article (“DNA damages…” see item 4 below) was cited.

hk5
Evidence from the dossier on my site
  1. PRIMA-1 MET induces mitochondrial apoptosis through activation of caspase-2

(Oncogene, 2008)

The comment on pubpeer.com concerns errors in figures and graphs.

The article was withdrawn on 13 February 2017

  1. DNA damage induces two distinct modes of cell death in ovarian carcinomas (Cell

Death & Differ, 2008)

The comment on pubpeer.com concerns fig. 1C which (in this original paper) is the same as fig. 3C in “Death…” (see item 2 above).

Helin Vakifahmetoglu-Norberg replies that it must be considered acceptable for figures from original papers to be reused in review articles.

screenshot-drive.google.com 2017-06-28 16-34-54
Evidence from the dossier on my site
  1. DISC-mediated activation of caspase-2 in DNA damage-induced apoptosis

(Oncogene, 2009)

The comment on pubpeer.com comprises an uncaptioned figure showing that a panel (lane 4) in fig. 3A has been cut.

Helin Vakifahmetoglu-Norberg replies that the figure in 3A has been recalculated with and without “lane 4” and that this does not affect the conclusions or results of the study.

PubPeer evidence
  1. Caspase-2 promotes cytoskeleton protein degradation during apoptotic cell death

(Cell Death & Differ, 2013) [actually, it was the journal Cell Death & Disease, -LS]

The comment on pubpeer.com concerns the suspected duplication of figures 4G, 4H, S2F (in another paper), as well as 1C and 4C (responded to by Zhivotovsky).

Helin Vakifahmetoglu-Norberg has supplied the original data for figs. 4G, 4H and S2F.

screenshot-drive.google.com 2017-06-28 16-39-55
Evidence from the dossier on my site
  1. Chaperone-mediated autophagy degrades mutant p53 (Genes Dev., 2013)

On 31 May 2016, the acting vice-chancellor announced her decision on case no. 21647/2016, based in part on the findings made by the investigation, that it did not constitute scientific misconduct. The case related to figs. S2C and 5C.

Fresh criticism on pubpeer.com indicates that the p53 stains look identical to previously published stains and that fig. 4A in this paper is a duplication of fig. 2B in “Degradation…” (see item 8 below).

Helin Vakifahmetoglu-Norberg replies that the tubulin stains and the p53 stains were included in the correction. As regards fig. 4A, see item 8 below.

hk1
Evidence from dossier on my site
  1. Degradation of HK2 by chaperone-mediated autophagy promotes metabolic

catastrophe and cell death (J Cell Science, 2011)

On 31 May 2016, the acting vice-chancellor announced her decision on case no. 21646/2016, based in part on the findings made by the investigation, that it did not constitute scientific misconduct. The case related to figs. S2C and 5C.

The new comment on pubpeer.com claims that fig. 2B in this paper is identical to fig. 4A in “Chaperone…” (see item 7 above).

Helin Vakifahmetoglu-Norberg has presented original data for fig. 2B in this paper. As regards the alleged similarity between fig. 2B in this article and fig. 4A in “Chaperone…’, she has submitted enlargements showing that they are not identical.

  1. Corrigendum: Chaperone-mediated autophagy degrades mutant p53 (Genes Dev.,

2016)

On 31 May 2016, the acting vice-chancellor announced her decision on case no. 21647/2016, based in part on the findings made by the investigation, that it did not constitute scientific misconduct. The case related to figs. S2C and 5C.

New comments on pubpeer.com from 10 October 2016 claim that several questions remain unanswered, despite the correction. The criticism is the same as in items 8 and 9 above, where it is also responded to.

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PubPeer evidence criticising the Corrigendum

Reason for decision

The investigation and the action taken by Helin Vakifahmetoglu-Norberg and Professor Boris Zhivotovsky give KI no cause to pursue the matter further and thus the case is considered closed.

The decision on this matter has been taken by acting Vice-Chancellor Karin Dahlman-Wright after presentation by docent Pierre Lafolie. Also participating in the final handling of the case was Professor Anders Ekbom.

Karin Dahlman-Wright

Pierre Lafolie

 


This is the other KI letter I received, regarding the Vakifahmetoglu publication Imreh et al, 2011. The paper was previously corrected, upon fresh evidence, it received an editorial Expression of Concern 

i7vws14
Older PubPeer evidence

Paper for Concern in J Cell Science

– Chromosomal breaks during mitotic catastrophe triggery H2AX-ATM-p53 mediated apoptosis, 2011

On March 27 2017, Executive Editor Sharon Ahmad alerted Karolinska Institutet by mail on concern regarding this paper. The concern originated after mail communications between the author and the Journal on figures appearing in the paper. On April 24 the Executive Editor informed KI that the Journal would publish an “Expression of concern”.

This is to inform you that KI has initiated a closer investigation of this case, including control of research documentation and a site visit to Professor Zhivosky’s [misspelled by KI, correct: Zhivotovsky, -LS] lab. The investigation is ongoing and expected to be reported Q3 2017.

Karin Dahlman-Wright

hk2
Evidence from dossier on my site

6 thoughts on “Data manipulation evidence in Helin Vakifahmetoglu papers “warrants no further consideration”

  1. The Karolinska Institute decides the Nobel prizes for physiology or medicine.
    https://WWW.Britannica.com/topic/Nobel-Prize
    Physiology and medicine are in danger.

    Karolinska Institutet utnämner tagarna av Nobelpriserna i fysiologi eller medicin. KI:s påverkan är en samhällsfara.

    Med vänlig hälsning
    Paul Colin Gloster

    Like

    1. Something just feels very wrong when fuzzy pictures of western blots and micrographs are taken as sufficient scientific evidence for some of the most lavishly funded research.

      Like

  2. So Helin Vakifahmetoglu-Norberg and Karin Dahlman-Wright claims that it is ok to reuse an image in a review paper……after photoshopping it and claiming it depicts something else than in the original paper!!?? Or am I misunderstanding something here?

    Like

  3. Did Karolinska Institute learn anything from the Macchiarini scandal? Apparently not.
    This is very disappointing as I though a new leadership would improve the research integrity
    policy at Karolinska.

    Like

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