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Misconduct findings fell KI Vice-President Dahlman-Wright

Karolinska Vice-president Karin Dahlman-Wright was found guilty of research misconduct, not much, only in one case, and even that shared. But she already resigned.

We are witnessing the conclusion of the case of Karin Dahlman-Wright, cancer researcher and former Rector of the Karolinska Institutet (KI) in Stockholm, Sweden. To give you a three-word summary: Dahlman-Wright was saved, almost. She still had to resign as Vice-President of KI, on 9 September 2019.

Some junior researchers were thrown under the bus, though presumably deservingly. Also Dahlman-Wright’s mentor and former Chairman of the Nobel Assembly, Jan–Åke Gustafsson, got fingered for research misconduct. He departed in 2008 for University of Houston, USA, and left behind some unsavoury affairs, both financial and sexual, details of these scandals are catalogued here. Dahlman-Wright herself was saved: once by Gustaffsson taking the fall for her, and otherwise: she gets to share the research misconduct blame for just one paper. Out of 10 investigated.

The background

In summer 2018, KI’s former rector Dahlman-Wright brought the hammer down in the Paolo Macchiarini affair where the medical university decided that the mere coauthorship on a fraudulent paper constitutes research misconduct. The small-print stipulation being: only if you are a whistleblower, since those certain coauthors, who were best friends with Macchiarini and actively contributed to obfuscation, were actually acquitted. Some of my readers, certain image integrity experts alike the pseudonymous Clare Francis, felt prompted to have a look at the Rector’s publications. They found a lot, which both I and Clare Francis then reported to KI. Further analysis was done by Johan Thyberg, KI professor emeritus and research integrity activist, who also reported his findings to KI.

KI then outsourced the investigation of their leader to Gothenburg University and agreed in advance to accept the verdict. Gothenburg in turn sought advice from the Central Ethics Review Board (CEPN) which invited an external expert from Denmark, Nils Billestrup. The physiology professor discovered much intentional data fabrication, but also that most of it somehow did not affect the conclusions of Dahlman-Wright’s papers. CEPN went even further and threw out even those cases where Billestrup found fraud, to proclaim Dahlman-Wright a very sloppy scientist, yet entirely innocent of all suspicions of research misconduct. This was the CEPN report’s summary (click to download full documents in Swedish and in English):

“In summary, the Expert Group concludes that even if several of the errors and mistakes from which the articles suffer deserve serious criticism, it cannot be considered to be established that the shortcomings are such that they comprise misconduct in research.
The Expert Group notes that the overall impression is that good research practices did not seem to be the norm in the research environment, where responsibility is taken to introduce new researchers to all aspects of a sound scientific approach. The inadequate procedures noted in conjunction with the review of the case were likely a contributing factor to the carelessness that occurred. Even if several of the errors that were noted were difficult to detect, blaming them on a generally stressful situation, as Karin Dahlman-Wright does, is noteworthy. It bears witness to a nonchalant approach to the important task of the research leader.”

Now Gothenburg built on that CEPN report, complimented by their own investigation with their own external advisor Sven Påhlman, cancer research professor at Lund University. This time the verdict is harsher, slightly, though significantly. The qualitative difference being: CEPN verdict meant no consequences at all for Dahlman-Wright because it found no misconduct at all, but the Gothenburg opinion, which did find some, was bound to cost her the position of Vice-President of KI. A predictable forced resignation happened after a crisis meeting at KI, on 9.09.2019. Dahlman-Wright wrote in a final blog post as Vice-President:

Shortly after being bullied out of the UK Conservative Party by Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government, Nicholas Soames, the grandson of Winston Churchill and veteran parliamentarian over nearly 40 years said “I am truly very sad that it should end in this way”. I share these sentiments as I leave my position as vice president at Karolinska Institutet after after 3.5 yrs. The immediate reason is that I am associated with scientific misconduct in one article. I am criticized for not properly checking the publisher’s proofs prior to publication and for being the driver of the project up to 2015, a time ahead of when the experiments for the critized figure where performed.

“The expert group shares Nils Billestrup’s view that although the mistake should have been discovered by Karin Dahlman-Wright, as the correspondent author, it cannot be stated that it was done intentionally by gross negligence. According to the expert group, there is
not research misconduct in Article 4″

Of course the departing Vice-President also added that “the conclusions drawn were not affected by the mistakes“. It is not clear if Professor Dahlman-Wright will now be able to focus on her research after the likely resignation, as her rector-predecessor Anders Hamsten (the one who absolved Macchiarini) did, since even CEPN found the fallen KI Vice-Rector to be incapable of leading a research lab. Maybe Dahlman-Wright will join another former KI rector Harriet Wallberg-Henriksson (the one who recruited Macchiarini) in doing sod all in some governmental office in Stockholm while receiving some of the highest salaries in Swedish public service.

The Gothenburg Report

Only 2 out of 10 investigated papers were found to contain research misconduct, other contain only “errors” or nothing worth bothering about. In the two problematic papers, Dahlman-Wright gets called out on research misconduct only once, and there she shares the blame with her first author PhD student Min Jia. That paper Jia et al Cancer Research 2016 might get retracted. The second case is even more bizarre. Back in 2008, last author Dahlman-Wright was able to use the notorious “contributed track” at PNAS, and thus publish her paper in PNAS without proper peer review, because her coauthor and former mentor Gustafsson is a member of National Academy of Sciences (NAS). Hence Gustafsson became the contributing corresponding author, for which he now is served a misconduct verdict by the Gothenburg investigation. And: that paper Liu et PNAS al 2008 was already corrected earlier this year, so no retraction despite proven fraud! Funny, isn’t it?

This is the Gothenburg report for download, which Thyberg shared after the university demanded a fee from me, despite my being specifically named as whistleblower (together with Thyberg and Clare Francis). There is allegedly no English version yet, though several of the PhD students guilty of misconduct don’t speak Swedish. Hence, a translated summary:

Below is a brief summary of the Council’s position in the articles concerned.
In Article 3, in accordance with the above, the Council considers that there are serious shortcomings such as image duplication, deficiencies in routines for storing original film data, deficiencies in communication with other authors and shortcomings in the review of proofs. The Council’s assessment is that, overall is about gross negligence and thus there is research misconduct in Article 3. The Council considers that the irregularities in question regarding image duplication(s), deficiencies in storage of raw data / original films, deficiencies in communication with other authors and shortcomings in reviewing proofs is primarily derived from first author and corresponding author Min Jia. The Council considers that Karin Dahlman-Wright, in her capacity as a last-signing and corresponding author and project lead (before 2016) also has a responsibility.

In Article 5, the Council considers that deliberate manipulation of images has taken place to beautify the data. The Council considers that there is therefore, research misconduct. The Council considers that the misconduct can be attributed to the first author Yawen Liu and that the research group leader and corresponding author Jan-Åke Gustafsson also has a responsibility. Albin Sandelin is also a correspondent auhtor, but he has no employment affiliation to Kl and is thus not covered by the Council’s investigation of suspected dishonesty in research at Kl.

In Article 7, the Council considers that there is justification for some criticism regarding the presentation of cut blots and presentation
of other molecular weight protein bands. However, the Council does not consider that the main conclusions of the article have been affected
and that all raw data is available. The Council considers that there is justification for some criticism but that there is no research misconduct in Article 7.

The Council’s position is summarized as follows:”

  • “There is no research misconduct performed at KI in Articles 6, 8, 9 and 10.
  • There are errors in Articles 1-5 and in Article 7. The Council agrees with the criticisms made by external expert and the expert group regarding the lack of procedures regarding storage of research data and management of images within the relevant research groups at Kl. There exists however, no research misconduct in the articles.
  • Research misconduct exists in Article 3 and the misconduct can be attributed to Min Jia and Karin Dahlman-Wright at KI.
  • Research misconduct exists in Article 5 and the misconduct can be attributed to Yawen Liu and Jan-Åke Gustafsson at Kl.”

For the analysis of data manipulations, and the efforts which Billestrup, CEPN and now Gothenburg went to as not to see those as wilful fabrication of research data, please be advised to read in particular this report on my site. For example, the Article 6 is very much not OK, but it was mainly done in Italy and Dahlman-Wright was merely a collaborator. This is why there is no misconduct. Previously, KI whitewashed a collaborative paper from France, fetauring their current rector Ole Petter Ottersen, where a gel fabricated in his former lab in Oslo was found to be somehow OK.

But Paper 8 was done at KI. This is why everyone decided to repeat the mantra that nothing happened there.

” Article 8. Nils Billestrup and the expert group unanimously believe that there is no evidence of tampering has occurred in connection with the generation of Figure 5B. According to the expert tip, there is no dishonesty in research in Article 8.”

The papers 9 and 10 were flagged by Thyberg in October 2018, in this report. These were found to contain no irregularities. As for the only two papers where actual research misconduct was found, we learn that Dahlman-Wright believes there was a huge conspiracy against her:

Article 3. Karin Dahlman-Wright ran the project and researched and discussed data and conclusions at the research group meetings as well as in individual meetings with first and foremost the first author Dr. My Jia. Karin Dahlman-Wright participated in experimental design, data analysis, interpretation of data and monitoring of the study. She read, developed, commented and corrected versions of the manuscript. She checked that results was supported by the figures included. Karin Dahlman-Wright agrees with the report that an image duplication occurred in Figure 4A. According to her, raw data for this figure was produced by Min Jia during
February-March 2016. Only in July 2018 did Karin Dahlman-Wright realize that Min Jia had not sent her the last version of the revised manuscript that Min Jia had submitted to the journal and where there was a new Figure 4A.

Regarding Figure 6A, Karin Dahlman-Wright asks if there has been a duplication of the image about which Johan Thyberg has raised suspicions in his supplementary report. Karin Dahlman-Wright notes that Min Jia replaced Figure 6A with a new figure and that Min Jia’s explanation to Karin Dahlman-Wright was that Min Jia became insecure after pointing out that the images were similar and that she then sent another picture. According to Karin Dahlman-Wright, Min Jia has not shown her any data supporting that Figure 6A contained in Article 3 is incorrect. Karin Dahlman-Wright writes that she lacks confidence for Min Jia. Karin Dahlman-Wright has stated that in connection with the move of the department in January 2018 the backup data was lost without her knowledge. Karin Dahlman-Wright has appointed as an acting director since the beginning of 2016 the research group leader Chunyan Zhao who had the operational responsibility, including responsibility for storing raw data.
Article 5. Karin Dahlman-Wright ran the part of the study that involved the estrogen receptor binding to DNA. She researched and discussed data, results and conclusions with the research team. She read, commented and corrected the manuscript. She referred to Dr. Yawen Liu, in Jan-Åke Gustafssons research group at KI in 2007, and that the work was part of her [Liu’s] postdoc project. Karin Dahlman-Wright informed the Council on 18 December 2018 that the journal contacted the corresponding authors Jan-Åke Gustafsson and Albin Sandelin.

The investigated papers

  1. M Matic , G Bryzgalova, H Gao, P Antonson, P Humire, Y Omoto, N Portwood, C Pramfalk, S Efendic, PO Berggren, JÅ Gustafsson and K Dahlman-Wright. Estrogen signalling and the metabolic syndrome: targeting the hepatic estrogen receptor alpha action. PLoS ONE (2013)  doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0057458 [CORRECTED 19.06.2019] Figure 2
  2. Y Qiao, CN Shiue, J Zhu , T Zhuang, P Jonsson , APH Wright, C Zhao, K Dahlman-Wright. AP-1-mediated chromatin looping regulates ZEB2 transcription: new insights into TNFa-induced epithelial-mesenchymal transition in triple-negative breast cancer. Oncotarget (2015) doi: 10.18632/oncotarget.3158 Figure 1 and 2
  3. M Jia, T Andreassen, L Jensen, TF Bathen, I Sinha, H Gao, C Zhao, LA Haldosen, Y Cao, L Girnita, SA Moestue and K Dahlman-Wright. Estrogen Receptor a Promotes Breast Cancer by Reprogramming Choline Metabolism Cancer Res. 2016 doi: 10.1158/0008-5472.CAN-15-2910. Figure 4 and 6
  4. J Zhu , C Zhao , A Kharman-Biz , T Zhuang , P Jonsson, N Liang , C Williams, C-Y Lin , Y Qiao , K Zendehdel , S Strömblad, E Treuter, K Dahlman-Wright. The atypical ubiquitin ligase RNF31 stabilizes estrogen receptor a and modulates estrogen-stimulated breast cancer cell proliferation Oncogene. 2014. doi: 10.1038/onc.2013.573. Figure 4 and 6 [CORRECTED on 27.09.2018]
  5. Y Liu, H Gao, TT Marstrand, A Ström, E Valen, A Sandelin, JA Gustafsson, K Dahlman-Wright. The genome landscape of ERalpha- and ERbeta-binding DNA regions. PNAS 2008 doi: 10.1073/pnas.0712085105. Figure 1 [CORRECTION 22.01.2019]
  6. P Rizza, I Barone, D Zito, F Giordano, M Lanzino, F De Amicis, L Mauro, D Sisci, S Catalano, K Dahlman-Wright , JA Gustafsson, S Ando Estrogen receptor beta as a novel target of androgen receptor action in breast cancer cell lines. Breast Cancer Res. 2014 doi: 10.1186/bcr3619. Figure 1 and 4
  7. L Lundholm , G Bryzgalova , H Gao , N Portwood , S Fält, K D Berndt, A Dicker, D Galuska, J R Zierath , J-A Gustafsson , S Efendic, K Dahlman-Wright, A Khan. The estrogen receptor {alpha}-selective agonist propyl pyrazole triol improves glucose tolerance in ob/ob mice; potential molecular mechanisms. The Journal of endocrinology (2008) doi: 10.1677/JOE-08-0192 Figure 10
  8. Lindberg MK, Weihua Z, Andersson N, Movérare S, Gao H, Vidal O, Erlandsson M, Windahl S, Andersson G, Lubahn DB, Carlsten H, Dahlman-Wright K, Gustafsson JA, Ohlsson C Estrogen receptor specificity for the effects of estrogen in ovariectomized mice. J Endocrinol. 2002. doi: 10.1677/joe.0.1740167 Figure 5
  9. G Borbely, LA Haldosen, K Dahlman-Wright and C Zhao. Induction of USP17 by combining BET and HDAC inhibitors in breast cancer cells. Oncotarget (2015) DOI: 10.18632/oncotarget.5601 Figure 3
  10. Y Qiao, H He, P Jonsson, I Sinha, C Zhao and K Dahlman- Wright. AP-1 Is a Key Regulator of Proinflammatory Cytokíne TNF-mediated Triple-negative Breast Cancer Progression. JBC (2016) DOI: 10.1074/jbc.M115.702571 Figure 3 and 4

The full investigative report from University of Gothenburg on the Dahlman-Wright case is available in Swedish here for download.

Correction: Earlier article version said KDW was still rector in 2018, when the last Macchiarini investigation concluded. She handed over the position to Ottersen in August 2017. 

Update 20.12.2019

Sweden now has a government-appointed central research integrity board, which will start its work on 1 January 2020. This is why KI legal counsellor Helena Scarabin sent me this email regarding the Dahlman-Wright case:

Concerning investigation of potential scientific misconduct

According to the Act (2019:504) on responsibility for good research practice and the examination of misconduct in research, that enters into effect on 1 January 2020, issues of research misconduct are to be examined be a national Board (Board for examination of misconduct in research). According to the transitional provisions to the Act the Board must from 1 January 2020 take over the processing of cases of research misconduct that have been initiated at an entity responsible for research. The entity responsible for research must hand over the document for these cases to the Board.

KI has not completed the preparation of the case and will not take a decision before 31 December 2019. The documents in the case will therefore be submitted to the Board for examination of misconduct in research.


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19 comments on “Misconduct findings fell KI Vice-President Dahlman-Wright

  1. The Karolinska continuous to bring shame to Swedish research reputation. It just so sad…


  2. Claire Francis

    Since this site is supposed to be about finding errors in order to improve scientific quality, you might want to correct tour own mistake! It was KI’s rektor that made the decisions about scientific misconduct for wisleblowers and others during 2018 not Karin Dahlman-Wright, who was prorektor at the time.


  3. Claire Francis

    KDW was in charge after Hamsten and re-opened the Macchiarini investigations that you refer to above and that had been reported by the whistle blowers prior to Hamstens free-ing decision. KDW sent them for external evaluation, that´s all. But the decisions in 2018 that you refer to above were taken by her successor. As scientists we are expected to correct mistakes if we make them. Please change all your texts so that they accurately report the truth. For example it is untruthful to report that KDW is associated with a decision on scientific misconduct for any of the Machhiarini whistleblowers.


  4. They can be rapidly and unequivocally discriminated by a missing “i” in the name. Publish! Immediately! Science, Nature, or Cell? sigh



    “‘People make mistakes. It doesn’t mean it’s scientific misconduct’
    Karolinska Institute’s Karin Dahlman-Wright, who resigned as vice president this month and awaits the final verdict on her future, tells Science|Business she has a ‘clear conscience’ over errors in published research papers”


    • Absolutely abhorrent and disgusting. Classic victim role-playing. There must be other issues given this personality. I predict big issues to come out of the closet….


  6. Former KI Researcher

    Its naive to think that KDW has not been involverade in the decision of the Macchiarini investigation as she has been primary responsible for the investigation longer than Ole-Petter. Also Anders Ekbom have been involved but his name is not on the decision. Pierre Lafolie is on the decision and is one of the primary causes of the scandal. The investigation and deciding has more factual errors than I have time to list but I find it humorous that people find faith in a pice of paper uncorroborated by facts from a Institute that have continuously been covering-up not only Sweden’s biggest research scandal but also one of the worlds biggest research scandals for years.
    In essence this Claire Francis person embodies part of the bigger problem of the Macchiarini scandal, peoples blind trust of authority that in its extreamilty can turn out to be a prison of belief.


  7. I personally worked for Karin and Jan Åke, I started my PhD but he and Karin said I am a dangerous person for their department, I fought through student’s union but no luck , power always wins over truth!!!! I had great results but they didn’t like me, I couldn’t hide the results . It is a shame for KI. I was really depressed and I finally left Sweden, and I never forgot what they did to me . I am so relieved that finally they are exposed for their misconduct, and how they play with results to make it right . I have so many things telling the world about them


  8. 15th October 2019 Editor’s nore in Cancer Research.

    Editor’s Note: Estrogen Receptor α Promotes Breast Cancer by Reprogramming Choline Metabolism
    Min Jia, Trygve Andreassen, Lasse Jensen, Tone Frost Bathen, Indranil Sinha, Hui Gao, Chunyan Zhao, Lars-Arne Haldosen, Yihai Cao, Leonard Girnita, Siver Andreas Moestue and Karin Dahlman-Wright
    DOI: 10.1158/0008-5472.CAN-19-2632 Published October 2019

    The editors are publishing this note to alert readers to concerns about this article (1). The editors were made aware of duplicated Western blot bands in Fig. 4A. Specifically, two sets of Western blot bands are duplicates: (i) T47D CCTα in the top right panel and T47D cadherin in the bottom right panel; and (ii) MCF7 CCTα band in the top right panel and MCF7 N in the bottom right panel. Because satisfactorily corrected figures could not be provided, the editors are publishing this note to alert readers to these concerns.

    1.↵Jia M, Andreassen T, Jensen L, Bathen TF, Sinha I, Gao H, et al. Estrogen receptor α promotes breast cancer by reprogramming choline metabolism. Cancer Res 2016;76:5634–46


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