My previous article covered manipulated western blot data in the papers authored by Paul Workman, president and CEO of the huge Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) in London, part of University of London. It seems now, with nobody being above him, Workman was investigating himself, and found (at the present count) two female colleagues guilty of placing fake data into his papers, primarily the ICR emeritus professor Ann Jackman. One paper was retracted, another received an outrageous correction. There, the paper’s first author, Workman’s former PhD student and now ICR Professor Udai Banerji, laid all the blame with Jackman, and then reproduced the offending western blot in what the journal declared to be reliable manner, so the findings of a paper are not affected despite western blot some unreliable women were accused to have faked.
If this sounds bizarre: ICR’s troubles with research integrity and basic ethics did not start wiht Workman. The previous CEO, who now left for UCSF in USA, Alan Ashworth, and his former right-hand man, since 2017 ICR professor Chris Lord, have their own impressive, but hitherto ignored, common record on PubPeer. Not that anyone cares, after all these are gentlemen.
This is how the research charity ICR wants to cure cancer using your donations. By faking western blots and who knows what other data, and run clinical trials based on this. The ICR men behind that get richer and richer, but will any cancer patients be helped with such rigged research?
The by far worst Workman co-authored paper presented in my article was Sain et al, Molecular Cancer Therapeutics 2006. It was so ridiculously fake that the US publisher, the cancer research society AACR, had no other option but to retract it. Just look at its Figure 6 (there is much more on PubPeer):
This is the retraction notice, published in the journal’s September 2018 issue:
“This article (1) is being retracted at the request of the authors. The work is in two main parts. The first part is a description of the relevant characteristics of the human ovarian cancer cell lines used and an analysis of the efficacy of the combination of the HSP90 inhibitor 17-AAG with paclitaxel and carboplatin. The latter part shows the effect of the single agents and drug combinations on HSP90 client proteins and downstream effectors. All of the experiments in the article were carried out in the laboratory of the senior author A.L. Jackman. It has been brought to our attention that in the second part of the article, Figs. 5A, 5B, 6, 7, and 8 contained inappropriately assembled Western blots. N. Sain performed the experiments and processed the data and has taken primary responsibility for the flawed figures. The authors wish to sincerely apologize to the scientific community and deeply regret any inconveniences or challenges resulting from the publication and subsequent retraction of this article”.
That first author Nivedita Sain doesn’t work at ICR anymore, likely since around a decade. It is not clear how the inquisitors around Workman were able to make her admit her guilt, maybe Sain actually has no clue what she is being accused of. The other woman made responsible for data fraud is ICR emeritus professor Jackman, who never replied to my emails. She did post a comment on PubPeer in February 2018:
“We have noted these comments and are investigating”
The take-home message from this retraction notice: Workman had nothing to do with that paper.
He is however corresponding author on the work by his former PhD student Banerji: Banerji et al, Cancer Chemotherapy and Pharmacology, 2008, and its Figure 2 is utterly fake. But because the paper also features Sain and Jackman as co-authors, this Correction was issued on September 1st:
“The corresponding author of the original article has informed us of concerns about the immunoblots in Fig. 2 which were carried out in the collaborating laboratory of Professor Ann Jackman. The experiment has been replicated twice in the Workman laboratory and the findings remain the same. The authors have provided the original blots and the corrected version for Fig. 2 and this has been included in the latest online HTML and PDF versions of the article. The change does not affect the Figure Legend or main text of the article. The authors regret this error.”
Basically, Banerji was the inquisitor delegated to find the culprits for fake data in his paper (Sain and Jackman), and to replicate the fake results, to find out that the findings “remain the same”. I was joking in my article that the authors will probably go back and reproduce the results from 10 years ago, and this is exactly what they claim to have achieved, faithfully. Except that they didn’t, a PubPeer user demonstrates that the new blot shows quite different results as the previous one:
The journal has two editor-in-chief, both men. The one responsible for papers from Europe is Étienne Chatelut, from INSERM in France. I really don’t know anymore, is this a cultural peculiarity for French academics to publicly endorse data manipulation? But blaming it all on female collaborators is a new one for sure.
But maybe Workman was indeed a victim of some fraudulent females? After all, look what trouble the employment of females brought to ICR: Nazneen Rahman resigned as ICR professor after being accused of bullying by no less than 45 of her colleagues and losing her Wellcome Trust funding as the result. Incidentally, Rahman’s former PI and ICR professor Michael Stratton, was accused of bullying himself, in his current position as director of Sanger Institute. It would be interesting to know the full scope of the Rahman scandal, and who exactly led and supervised the ICR investigation into her alleged bullying. After all, we know that Banerji and Workman investigated themselves and found Ann Jackson and Nivedita Sain guilty. ICR is a strange place.
The named person in charge of Workman et al investigation is ICR professor and academic dean Clare Isacke, she of course never replied to my emails. On 13 February she wrote to a colleague, who complained of receiving emails from the data integrity sleuth Clare Francis, as well as this offensive link:
“Meanwhile, yes I am fully aware of the Clare Francis emails and the PubPeer postings and all the allegations either have been or are being fully investigated. I am the ICRs “named person” so am in charge of the investigations”
Maybe Isacke is simply afraid to displease her boss she is supposed to investigate. After all, it is the ICR CEO Workman who makes the final decision in misconduct investigations, as per protocol. And women have to tread carefully at ICR, it seems.
Now, what about Workman’s other papers then, which feature neither Sain nor Jackman? I presented some in my previous article, and these were untainted by their presence. Maybe this is why Isacke and ICR chose to ignore that evidence? Or maybe Workman’s loyal inquisitors are about to smoke out another female saboteur, who knows.
Here another paper from PubPeer, corresponding last author Workman, again on the topic of HSP90 inhibitors: Holmes et al, Cancer Research 2008. The band cloning pattern resembles the one Sain and Jackson were pronounced guilty of.
If this will ever be corrected, we can probably expect Jessica Holmes to admit full responsibility. Which of the many female co-authors will take the fall for Workman’s paper Sharp et al 2007, in the same AACR journal Cancer Research?
And how about this paper, where Workman is merely co-author though, Rayter et al Oncogene 2008?
The last two authors here are Chris Lord and Alan Ashworth. The latter became ICR president in January 2011, and after a brief tenure of mere 3.5 years Ashworth moved in 2014 to San Francisco, California, to head the Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center, as Senior Vice President for Cancer Services at UCSF. Not everyone at ICR was sad about Ashworth’s leaving, there were apparently numerous complaints “of all types”, as an inside source indicated, with the hogging a newly bought supercomputer for his own sequencing projects being a minor issue. Let it be said that the alleged bully Rahman used to work in Ashworth’s department. Workman took over the rule over ICR from Ashworth in 2014, and many saw him as a pleasant change from Ashworth, in many respects.
Doing Lord’s work
Lord used to be Ashworth’s postdoc, and he was that excellent in his research under Ashworth, that he was “internally promoted”, i.e., appointed as principal investigator outside of all calls and competition, normally mandated by ICR guidelines. In 2017, Lord was made professor. Maybe he will be now tasked with investigating his own papers? There is certainly plenty to do.
Ashworth’s claim to fame is in having discovered the BRCA2 oncogene. In fact, in his hands (watched over by Lord) the protein BRCA2, when requested by experimental strategy, can even mutate into different proteins, like APRIN. Which kind of proves the papers central claim in the title of Brough et al EMBO J 2012: that “APRIN is a cell cycle specific BRCA2-interacting protein required for genome integrity and a predictor of outcome after chemotherapy in breast cancer“.
Here another duplication from Lord and Ashworth paper, in Iorns et al PLOS One 2009, and the loading control doesn’t match any of the two separate experiments it is made to stand for. Where did it originally come from? Which samples does it really show? Does it matter?
Or look at this interesting study Ashworth and Lord published in Cancer Research 7 years ago: Martin et al 2011. Incidentally, Ashworth is member of the AACR board of directors, which might interfere with this publisher’s investigation of his and likely also his ICR successor Workman’s (other) papers. In that paper, a novel cancer cure approach was established by specific targeting of the enzyme PINK using RNA interference (siRNA), which could be further potentiated by duplicating loading controls!
Of course it is not clear how translatable this loading control duplication is in the clinic, in patients. It works however reliably in other papers by Lord and Ashworth, even between publications showing utterly different cell lines, here Martin et al 2009 and Mendes-Pereira et al 2009, both published in EMBO Molecular Medicine:
Incidentally, Ashworth is EMBO member, which makes the issue of the above 3 papers in EMBO Press even more embarrassing. There is an even more interesting paper by Lord and Ashworth, published as Martin et al 2010 in Cancer Cell, which means this paper is safe from retraction or correction for all eternity, because this is Cell Press. There is plenty on PubPeer, posted already 3 to 5 years ago, and nobody, absolutely nobody cares. Look at this beauty, this is how the authors intended to cure cancer by inhibiting DNA polymerases in vitro while copy-pasting western blot bands in silico:
It’s all just loading controls, innit? Who needs those anyway? It is so cumbersome to fret about loading controls when you achieved your perfect gel image, nicely showing an increase in signal of a certain protein. All you had to accidentally do was to load just a tiny amount more to that well. Or less, if your experimental strategy predicted a decrease of that protein in that sample. It is all perfectly acceptable when you know anyway which results to expect, right? Especially if you work at ICR, where cancer is being daily conquered by superior Englishmen intelligence?
This is why it is perfectly OK to make up some fake loading control in Photoshop to satisfy some silly publishing criteria and to placate peer reviewers. It’s all illustrations anyway, as ICR scientists explained in that correction above: it is “Figure Legend or main text of the article” which matter. Not the figures.
Hence also this, in the same Martin et al Cancer Cell 2010 paper. If you have an issue with that creative band reuse, try publishing in Cancer Cell yourself, then come back complaining.
Dr Sarah Martin is now senior lecturer at Bart’s Cancer Institute at Queen Mary University London. 3 years ago, a PubPeer user tried to report the issues to the institution, and was dismissed as “a malicious email campaign“. Which means, ICR male elite will have to find another woman to take the blame for that Photoshop creativity.
Professor Lord serves as a member of the Athena SWAN steering group, as we are educated on his website, to advance “the careers of women in science, engineering, technology, maths and medicine through excellent employment practice in higher education“. Maybe Lord learned it from his boss: Ashworth is remembered at ICR for having dedicated much of his attention to women in science. In any case, obviously ICR could not trust a woman with the important task of Athena SWAN.
There is more by Lord and Ashworth on PubPeer, and also by Workman, who as you probably already figured out, is responsible for reacting to investigate his as well as Lord and Ashworth papers. Good luck there. Also, the sheer amount of evidence precludes any meaningful external intervention, otherwise ICR would collapse or at least lose charity donations. Please give generously, it is for a good cause.
If you are interested to support my work, you can leave here a small tip of $5. Or several of small tips, just increase the amount as you like (2x=€10; 5x=€25). Your generous patronage of my journalism will be most appreciated!