University of Bristol mysteriously lost its senior lecturer. Abderrahmane Kaidi, member of School of Cellular and Molecular Medicine, head of Nuclear Dynamics Laboratory, disappeared, and his institutional website was wiped out in August 2018 as if it never existed. The Kaidi lab in Bristol used to specialise on DNA damage and chromatin dynamics in ageing processes and cancer, it was merely 5 years old at the time of its dissolution, had 4 lab members beside the MRC Young Investigator Kaidi and boasted funding from HFSP, Wellcome Trust and the Royal Society.
I obtained an internal email which lifts the mystery: Kaidi was namely found guilty of “having fabricated research data”, and resigned with “immediate effect”. He was apparently also accused of bullying by his lab members. The most piquant thing: affected by research misconduct are also publications by Kaidi from his postdoc period, in the lab of one of the most influential scientists in the field of DNA damage research worldwide: Stephen Jackson in Cambridge.
Here is the email, sent by the Head of School of Cellular and Molecular Medicine University of Bristol, Anne Ridley, on 16 August 2018, and labelled “Strictly confidential”:
You may be aware of the recent and sudden departure of Dr Abderrahmane Kaidi, following his resignation from the University with immediate effect. At the time of his resignation, Dr Kaidi was under investigation in respect of allegations relating to his behaviour in the laboratory towards other members of his research group.
A confidential investigation into allegations of research misconduct against Dr Kaidi had also recently concluded. Dr Kaidi admitted to having fabricated research data to convince a research collaborator in another institution that certain experiments had taken place, when this was not the case. Dr Kaidi has taken full responsibility for his actions and no other member of his research group is implicated. The fabricated data was not intended for publication and will not be published.
No specific concerns were raised in the investigation about other publications during Dr Kaidi’s time at the University of Bristol, but a previous institution has been formally notified of concerns about publications prior to his appointment. Relevant research funding bodies have also been notified about the outcome of the investigation.
This brief statement has been issued in order to provide accurate information and reassurance as we understand that there has been speculation within the School and that members of the research group, who have been asked to keep this matter confidential, have been questioned. You are also expected to keep this information in strict confidence.
If you wish to discuss any of the information in this statement, please speak to me.
If you are approached by anyone outside the University about this case, you must not disclose any information but please let Sue Paterson, Director of Legal Services (Sue.Paterson@bristol.ac.uk), know who has contacted you and the nature of their enquiries.
Interestingly, Ridley predecessor as Head of School of Cellular and Molecular Medicine was until July 2017 Christos Paraskeva, who also used to be Kaidi’s PhD advisor. It is therefore reassuring that “no specific concerns” were found in “Kaidi’s time at the University of Bristol”, which obviously includes 7 common papers with Paraskeva between 2005 and 2009. Apparently, young Abder (as he was commonly called) used to be the paradigm of scientific honesty and integrity as Paraskeva’s PhD student.
The above mentioned “research collaborator in another institution” is Robert Grosse, director of Institute of Pharmacology at the Marburg University in Germany. Grosse shared a $1mn research grant from Human Frontier Science Program (HFSP) with Kaidi, awarded in 2016. Presumably the fake data Kaidi sent to Marburg was for this HFSP project. The German collaborator never replied to my emails, maybe Grosse was grossed out after I introduced myself with this Marburg-related article. Instead, Marburg University quickly deleted Kaidi’s seminar announcement from 2015.
And what that certain “previous institution” was, “formally notified of concerns about publications”, well, that is a very, very delicate issue.
Kaidi did his PhD in Bristol in 2007, before he moved for postdoc to the lab of a star scientist from Cambridge, Stephen Jackson, and remained there till 2013 when Kaidi returned to Bristol as senior lecturer. In the Cambridge lab, Kaidi worked for a god, or if you are monotheistically inclined, the God of DNA damage research. Jackson is not just a star scientist whom biggest elite journals beg on their knees to let them publish his next paper, he is also a very successful businessman: his company KuDOS Pharmaceuticals, specialising on inhibiting DNA repair pathways, was sold to the pharma giant Astra Zeneca for £120 Million. With such a patron, also Kaidi was successful, and these are his research Jackson Lab papers, now under suspicion:
Kaidi A, Jackson SP. KAT5 tyrosine phosphorylation couples chromatin sensing to ATM signalling.
Kaidi A, Weinert BT, Choudhary C, Jackson SP. Human SIRT6 promotes DNA end resection through CtIP deacetylation.
Science. 2010 Sep 10;329(5997):1348-53. doi: 10.1126/science.1192049.
Polo SE, Kaidi A, Baskcomb L, Galanty Y, Jackson SP. Regulation of DNA-damage responses and cell-cycle progression by the chromatin remodelling factor CHD4.
EMBO J. 2010 Sep 15;29(18):3130-9. doi: 10.1038/emboj.2010.188.
According to the findings in Bristol, these three impactful publications, either all, or some, contain serious data manipulations. You see now why these fraud findings and Kaidi’s fall in Bristol had to be kept secret: Steve Jackson cannot have retractions or misconduct findings, even by proxy. Because if he should have failed in his supervision as PI and have published fraud in Nature and Science with his valued postdoc Kaidi, where else among the many Jackson Lab alumni of 25 years, many of whom now with their own well-funded high-publishing big labs, may such misconduct have happened unnoticed? Some thoughts are better left unthought, there are enough scandals in DNA damage research field, some are even ERC funded.
Hence the total silence from both Bristol and Cambridge. The email I cited was received by around a hundred of people in Bristol alone, I am certainly not the only one who was forwarded it, first- second- or third-hand. You see how loyal academia and science journalism are to bigger science politics. This reminds me of another, very similar UK case, where another senior lecturer was sacked for research misconduct: Irina Stancheva. The University of Edinburgh is still highly reluctant to release any information, and apparently goes to great lengths to control the media. The reason here seems to be the same as in Bristol: to protect some very significant coauthors from negative associations.
Bristol University has a good experience in deleting their past and hiding the truth: this university played a key role in the world’s first trachea transplant performed in Spain in 2008 by the scandal surgeon Paolo Macchiarini and his British colleague, then-Bristol researcher Martin Birchall. The trachea was “regenerated” with patient’s cells in Bristol, it was somehow delivered from Barcelona to Birchall’s veterinary lab there, and the patient’s tissues were processed between pig carcasses. This was of course highly illegal and tremendously dangerous for the patient, and this is why it all happened in secret and largely behind the back of UK authorities. University of Bristol resolved their responsibility by deleting old press releases and announcing to have all lab books and other record as destroyed (read here).
Also in Kaidi’s case, the Bristol University moved quickly. His institutional website and other many mentions of their former senior lecturer on the university’s website were deleted, and let’s see how long this will remain online: in December 2017, Jackson was giving the Annual Sir Anthony Epstein Lecture in Bristol, where Kaidi had the honour to present his former boss with an award.
The Jackson lab organises regular alumni get-togethers, eagerly sponsored by Astra Zeneca and other industries. Those former Jackson postdocs who don’t get invited, by now established PIs themselves (including my former postdoc-period PI), can only fret and fidget, praying to be admitted to feel the divine grace the next time. In 2017, Kaidi was there, celebrating a 25 year Jackson Lab anniversary, even prominently mentioned on the website:
I will remain on this case to try to find out more. But now, the main news are out.
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. Your generous patronage of my journalism, however small it appears to you, will greatly help me with my legal costs.