Research integrity

Anil Sood and other questionable stars of MD Anderson

The MD Anderson Cancer Center, part of the University of Texas and located in Houston, is a giant hub of huge cancer research money, even for US standards. They also do a lot of science there, which only purpose seems to be publishing in big journals in order to generate even more money. If there is any genuine interest to help cancer patients with actual research: this stands in a stark contrast with MD Anderson’s evident attitude to research reproducibility and data integrity. A number of their star researchers who published in most respectable journals papers, had their data flagged on the whistleblowing platform PubPeer as highly problematic. Yet MD Anderson apparently cannot care less. Their star cancer researcher and businessman Raghu Kalluri was never investigated for many problems in his publications, either in those with or those without his misconduct-tainted Portuguese co-author and ex-MD Anderson employee Sonia Melo. When nobody ever investigates your research practices (e.g., because your research institution is blinded by the investor money you brought in), you will per definition never be found guilty of any misconduct. This is probably exactly why the elite journal Nature recently accepted a new paper from the Kalluri lab (Kamerkar et al 2017), on the same topic of exosomes as cancer biomarkers as his irreproducible earlier masterpiece with Melo (Melo et al, Nature 2015). The new Nature paper even again features the same disgraced co-author, who lost a Nature Genetics paper (Melo et al, 2009) and her EMBO Young Investigator funding due to data manipulation.

There is more evidence for research misconduct at MD Anderson. Its former president Ronald DePinho resigned from his position in March 2017,  in the wake of enormous financial losses of almost half a billion dollar, but unlike his almost 800 colleagues there, he did not lose his job. DePinho’s own PubPeer record of questionable data is very impressive, but not as impressive as his past salary  as president of MD Anderson of $2 Million a year (he now earns “only” $800k).

Bharat Aggarwal left MD Anderson in December 2015 after nine retractions, which certainly restricted his capacity for impactful publishing and funding acquisition in the US, which might have in turn also diminished Aggarwal’s practical use for the Texan elite cancer research center. The pharmacologist retired honourably and kept all his pension and benefits. His PubPeer record can be admired here. Aggarwal’s data manipulations in around 65 papers were originally flagged by pseudonymous Juuichi Jigen, afterwards whole 85 Aggarwal papers were reported (with little consequences) to the US Office of Research Integrity (ORI) by the mitochondria researcher and data integrity detective Paul Brookes, who used to operate a website, until he was forced to shut down his site after legal attacks. Brookes also flagged the data integrity deficits in papers of others former MD Anderson researchers, namely Dina Chelouche Lev (PubPeer record here) and Ratna Vadlamudi (PubPeer record here). PubPeer also lists numerous concerns for the papers by the MD Anderson leukaemia researchers Michael Andreeff and Marina Konopleva.

A reader of my site forwarded me now a dossier about the works Anil Sood, which I present below. Sood is professor of Gynecologic Oncology and Reproductive Medicine and co-director of Center for RNA Interference and Non-Coding RNAs at MD Anderson, his many grants are listed here. Sood is paid $455k annually by MD Anderson, even slightly more than Kalluri. Unlike Kalluri (PubPeer record here), Sood never had to correct a paper for data integrity problems, despite his impressive list of PubPeer evidence of questionable data. What follows below is an extra. Will MD Anderson care?

Not likely. Their research integrity Ombudsman William Plunkett did not reply to my first email request where I asked if he is interested to see the Sood dossier. My reminder two days later was answered with an auto-reply: “I am out of my office and will reply to your email when I return”. No date was specified: in which year or century Prof Plunkett will be back to deal with my inquiries, I suppose I was expected to wait.

Here is the full file of the Anil Sood dossier. Following is some select evidence, and even more is on PubPeer.

Thaker PH, Yazici S, Nilsson MB, Yokoi K, Tsan RZ, He J, Kim SJ, Fidler IJ, Sood AK. Antivascular therapy for orthotopic human ovarian carcinoma through blockade of the vascular endothelial growth factor and epidermal growth factor receptors. Clin Cancer Res. 2005 Jul 1;11(13):4923-33.

Contrast adjustment reveals straight edges and lack of background, suggestive of  wilful digital image manipulation. Image copyright: AACR, under fair use

Moreno-Smith M, Lee SJ, Lu C, Nagaraja AS, He G, Rupaimoole R, Han HD, Jennings NB, Roh JW, Nishimura M, Kang Y, Allen JK, Armaiz GN, Matsuo K, Shahzad MM, Bottsford-Miller J, Langley RR, Cole SW, Lutgendorf SK, Siddik ZH, Sood AK. Biologic effects of dopamine on tumor vasculature in ovarian carcinoma. Neoplasia. 2013 May;15(5):502-10.

Gel bands in red boxes appear duplicated. If true, this would indicate wilful data manipulation. Image copyright: Elsevier, under fair use
Same image apparently zoomed in and inappropriately re-used. Image copyright: Elsevier, under fair use

Lu C, Kamat AA, Lin YG, Merritt WM, Landen CN, Kim TJ, Spannuth W, Arumugam T, Han LY, Jennings NB, Logsdon C, Jaffe RB, Coleman RL, Sood AK. Dual targeting of endothelial cells and pericytes in antivascular therapy for ovarian carcinoma. Clin Cancer Res. 2007 Jul 15;13(14):4209-17.

Yellow framed image obviously re-used between this and another publication in same journal (Lu et al 2008). Image copyright: AACR, under fair use

Thaker PH, Deavers M, Celestino J, Thornton A, Fletcher MS, Landen CN, Kinch MS, Kiener PA, Sood AK. EphA2 expression is associated with aggressive features in ovarian carcinoma. Clin Cancer Res. 2004 Aug 1;10(15):5145-50.

Two neighbouring western blot bands look identical. If true, this evidences wilful data manipulation. Image copyright: AACR, under fair use

Pradeep S, Kim SW, Wu SY1, Nishimura M, Chaluvally-Raghavan P, Miyake T, Pecot CV, Kim SJ, Choi HJ, Bischoff FZ, Mayer JA, Huang L, Nick AM, Hall CS, Rodriguez-Aguayo C, Zand B, Dalton HJ, Arumugam T, Lee HJ, Han HD, Cho MS, Rupaimoole R, Mangala LS, Sehgal V, Oh SC, Liu J, Lee JS, Coleman RL, Ram P, Lopez-Berestein G, Fidler IJ, Sood AK13. Hematogenous metastasis of ovarian cancer: rethinking mode of spread. Cancer Cell. 2014 Jul 14;26(1):77-91. doi: 10.1016/j.ccr.2014.05.002.

Something is not right with this immunofluorescence image. Green signal suddenly gone in the overlay, and the DNA staining (DAPI) seems not to match. Image copyright: Elsevier, under fair use.


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61 comments on “Anil Sood and other questionable stars of MD Anderson

  1. herr doktor bimler

    Same image apparently zoomed in and inappropriately re-used. Image copyright: Elsevier, under fair use

    I’m not saying that I contributed to the relevant pubpeer thread. Just saying, one of those overlap-identifying rectangles makes me happy and proud.

    Bharat Aggarwal left MD Anderson in December 2015 after nine retractions, which certainly restricted his capacity for impactful publishing and funding acquisition in the US

    …But Aggarwal remains much-run-after as a well-remunerated Keynote Speaker at food-supplement scamborees conferences.
    His “impactful publishing capacity” is probably focussed on OMICS journals now. His editorial roles there will help.


  2. I am glad that someone is asking questions regarding MD Anderson and the way they are handling research integrity cases.


  3. Way too much money shovelled at doctors living in fancy mansions, way too many people still dying of cancer after billions spent.


    • Ana Pedro

      History repeats itself: Galileo vs the Holly Office, PubPeer vs investor money


  4. Pingback: Boletim de Notícias, 18/jul: Nível de oceanos foi subestimado por falha em satélite | Direto da Ciência

  5. No authors have been noticed? with these questionable images on 28 published papers (so far at Pubpeer) from Sood group at MDACC.


  6. Hope RIO and its committee at MDACC can lead their folks to the right direction. However, here are very interesting comments about Aggarwal’s case at Houston.


    • Hopefully! I read entire comments from retraction watch as above. Interestingly,
      Aggawal was at the same department where Prof Plunkett is. Moreover, several Professors at the same department are in Sood papers as co-authors or even senior authors.
      – is there any response from Prof Plunkett?


  7. MD Anderson is part of the University of Texas system. You should bring your concerns to the attention of Wiliam H. McRaven, the Chancellor of that system.


    • Ana Pedro

      University of Texas has a RIO. Perhaps you should adddress all the issues above to their RIO officer.


  8. This group is becoming a star of pubpeer..
    just found another one and it should be 36th queationable


  9. It started to comment with the raw data at


  10. Pingback: Anil Sood and how much MD Anderson doesn’t care: whistleblowers speak out – For Better Science

  11. Clin Cancer Res. 2002 Sep;8(9):2924-32.
    The paradoxical expression of maspin in ovarian carcinoma.
    Sood AK1, Fletcher MS, Gruman LM, Coffin JE, Jabbari S, Khalkhali-Ellis Z, Arbour N, Seftor EA, Hendrix MJ.
    Author information

    Division of Gynecologic Oncology, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Iowa, University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-1109, USA.

    Figure 1D.


  12. data reuse is a winning strategy.


  13. Pingback: Zombie scientist Sonia Melo awarded by AstraZeneca – For Better Science

  14. Ana Pedro

    If we start enumerating the examples of copy and paste, just on Leonid’s site….Lill, Jessus, Sood, etc…we will soon clearly see it was or is generalized practice


  15. J Clin Invest. 2013 May;123(5):2119-30. doi: 10.1172/JCI65425. Epub 2013 Apr 15.
    ATP11B mediates platinum resistance in ovarian cancer.
    Moreno-Smith M1, Halder JB, Meltzer PS, Gonda TA, Mangala LS, Rupaimoole R, Lu C, Nagaraja AS, Gharpure KM, Kang Y, Rodriguez-Aguayo C, Vivas-Mejia PE, Zand B, Schmandt R, Wang H, Langley RR, Jennings NB, Ivan C, Coffin JE, Armaiz GN, Bottsford-Miller J, Kim SB, Halleck MS, Hendrix MJ, Bornman W, Bar-Eli M, Lee JS, Siddik ZH, Lopez-Berestein G, Sood AK.
    Author information
    Department of Gynecologic Oncology, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, Texas 77030, USA.

    2018 expression of concern.
    Original citation: J Clin Invest. 2013;123(5):2119–2130.

    Citation for this expression of concern: J Clin Invest. 2018;128(7):3199.

    The Editors recently became aware that Figure 3B appears to use a set of images that were previously published in a 2009 Clinical Cancer Research paper with different sample labels (doi: 10.1158/1078-0432.CCR-08-2306). Additionally, the empty liposome and control siRNA PCNA–stained panels appear to be the same. The Editorial Board is pursuing further investigation of this matter, and we will inform our readers of the outcome when the investigation is complete.


  16. Finally there seems to be some movement regarding getting rid of the fake research produced at MD Anderson

    Sometimes it helps to keep up the pressure. It took quite many years though. A new editor of the journal Cancer Research may have helped.


  17. “Brookes also flagged the data integrity deficits in papers of others former MD Anderson researchers, namely Dina Chelouche Lev”

    Clin Cancer Res. 2009 Apr 15;15(8):2637-46. doi: 10.1158/1078-0432.CCR-08-2442. Epub 2009 Apr 7.
    Increased vascular endothelial growth factor-C expression is insufficient to induce lymphatic metastasis in human soft-tissue sarcomas.
    Lahat G1, Lazar A, Wang X, Wang WL, Zhu QS, Hunt KK, Pollock RE, Lev D.
    Author information
    Department of Surgical Oncology, The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, Texas 77030, USA.

    Figure 1.

    Data in this paper already published in Clin Cancer Res. 2008 Aug 15;14(16):5033-42, but samples are different.


  18. Clin Cancer Res. 2011 Dec 15;17(24):7563-73. doi: 10.1158/1078-0432.CCR-11-1707. Epub 2011 Oct 31.
    Genomic and molecular characterization of malignant peripheral nerve sheath tumor identifies the IGF1R pathway as a primary target for treatment.
    Yang J1, Ylipää A, Sun Y, Zheng H, Chen K, Nykter M, Trent J, Ratner N, Lev DC, Zhang W.
    Author information
    Departments of Bone and Soft Tissue Tumor, Pathology, and Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Tianjin Medical University Cancer Hospital and Institute, Tianjin, China.

    Figure 3A.


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