Elisabeth Bik has been studying some pathological cancer papers from the University of Nebraska, and she soon figured out that the state’s slogan “Nebraska. Honestly, it’s not for everyone” applies here also. According to Bik,
“This slogan should maybe be extended to include science as well, because some labs from the University of Nebraska appear to produce more papers with duplicated images than others.”
Bik shared with me a set of 11 papers with potential image duplication concerns, from a research group spanning the Departments of Radiation Oncology, Pathology and Microbiology, the Eppley Institute for Research in Cancer and Allied Disease, all part of the University of Nebraska Medical Center. Some scientists there are apparently in the business of curing cancer with Photoshop.
The image duplication expert Bik explained the history of her Nebraska findings:
“Seven of these papers were reported to the university in February 2016. The University was quick to respond and completed their investigation within a year. Two additional papers were sent to the University in October 2017, and [recently] I found problems in two more papers, bringing the total to 11 papers with problems.
Two of the 11 papers have since then been corrected (one in 2016 and one in 2018), and a third one has recently been retracted.“
Same names keep popping up on the authors’ lists, the most recurrent one is Ying Yan, associate professor at the Department of Radiation Oncology. She is presently supervising 7 NIH R01 grants worth over $15mn as principal investigator. A recent retraction for data manipulation in SEVEN figures was certainly an embarrassing setback for Nebraska’s shooting star Yan and her Eppley Institute mentor and regular coauthor Kenneth Cowan. Honesty, it’s not for everyone.
Y Yan, JP Haas, M Kim, MK Sgagias, KH Cowan BRCA1-induced apoptosis involves inactivation of ERK1/2 activities The Journal of biological chemistry (2002) doi: 10.1074/jbc.m201147200 ; Retraction 19 May 2019
Bik reported that paper and its gel band breeding bonanza to the journal JBC in February 2016, the retraction took over 3 years, and it is obvious Yan and Cowan fought tooth and nail to prevent it. Even now they passive-aggressively insist in the retraction notice:
“However, the withdrawing authors state that these errors do not change the underlying scientific findings of the article”
Actually, Yan and Cowan are right, in a way. Their paper never contained any underlying scientific findings, but it did contain lots of lying, decorated by Photoshop artistry and fake loading controls like these:
The following Yan & Cowan masterpiece was not even corrected, probably because the Editor-in-Chief of Oncogene, the Imperial College London professor Justin Stebbing, is still sulking about his own manipulated papers exposed. Which is good news for Yan, Cowan and their dishonest coauthors.
Y Yan, RS Spieker, M Kim, SM Stoeger, KH Cowan BRCA1-mediated G2/M cell cycle arrest requires ERK1/2 kinase activation Oncogene (2005) doi: 10.1038/sj.onc.1208492
It’s only loading controls, right? Would you like to see what else Yan and Cowan published in Oncogene? It is very, very bad, even for Oncogene‘s laissez-faire standards this western blot hooliganism is barely ignorable. Especially since the journal was notified right away when the paper appeared in 2015:
Y Yan, AL Hein, PM Greer, Z Wang, RH Kolb, SK Batra, KH Cowan A novel function of HER2/Neu in the activation of G2/M checkpoint in response to γ-irradiation Oncogene (2015) doi: 10.1038/onc.2014.167
There is more, because of course there are cloned bands in Figure 4A, while the blue and pink bands from Figures 1B and 3A make a special appearance in the figure 5B! The blue band even trice, which makes a total 9 copies of that little rascal, a record for that 2015 Oncogene paper from Nebraska. If only some Oncogene editor or Springer Nature manager bothered to ask the authors for the raw data back in 2016, for any of the figures in that paper, but instead they chose to ignore Bik.
Yan’s and Cowan’s coauthors were mostly passing young clinicians, who seem not to have cared about anything but a flashy CV, but the penultimate author Surinder Batra is actually head of department at the College of Medicine of University of Nebraska, and next to Yan, a co-investigator on several million-dollar-heavy NIH R01 grants.
The Yan & Cowan co-production also delivered this little Photoshop orgy in Figure 7, where the authors were probably testing if anyone at BioMedCentral was paying any attention whatsoever. They were not.
Y Yan, PM Greer, PT Cao, RH Kolb, K Cowan RAC1 GTPase plays an important role in γ-irradiation induced G2/M checkpoint activation Breast cancer research : BCR (2012) doi: 10.1186/bcr3164
Cowan was apparently so happy about Yan’s performance, that for a parallel paper with same team in 2012, he even made her last author, so that Yan can qualify for a faculty position:
RH Kolb, PM Greer, PT Cao, KH Cowan, Y Yan ERK1/2 signaling plays an important role in topoisomerase II poison-induced G2/M checkpoint activation PLoS ONE (2012) doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0050281
Now the authors would sure explain: but the reused blots show same signal, ATR and ERL1/2, respectively! Does it really matter that the samples described on these experiments are completely unrelated? Not in Nebraska, apparently.
The go-to journal for every cancer researcher dabbing in the art of the Photoshop is of course the pay-to-publish-your-fraud outlet known as Oncotarget, run by some confused-acting Soviet emigrees in New York. Yes, I am aware their lawyer Bukhlo might sent me another warning letter, but I am merely advertising for Oncotarget‘s business here! So here are again some happy customers, Yan and Cowan:
Y Yan, AL Hein, A Etekpo, KM Burchett, C Lin, CA Enke, SK Batra, KH Cowan, MM Ouellette Inhibition of RAC1 GTPase sensitizes pancreatic cancer cells to γ-irradiation Oncotarget (2014) doi: 10.18632/oncotarget.2500
Please appreciate, among all that creative gel reuse, that two ATR bands in Figure 5A are strangely identical. A mistake of oversight would have been to send this to JBC instead of Oncotarget. The last author and Nebraska associate professor Michel Ouellette can pat himself on the shoulder for being so far-sighted.
The year 2016 brought to the scientific community and to the publisher AACR this interesting artwork by the newly appointed Nebraska professor Yan. Not only western blots were photoshopped here, but also microscopy images of cell colonies and even photo sessions of arrayed rodents!
AL Hein, P Seshacharyulu, S Rachagani, YM Sheinin, MM Ouellette, MP Ponnusamy, MC Mumby, SK Batra, Y Yan PR55α Subunit of Protein Phosphatase 2A Supports the Tumorigenic and Metastatic Potential of Pancreatic Cancer Cells by Sustaining Hyperactive Oncogenic Signaling Cancer Research (2016) doi: 10.1158/0008-5472.can-15-2119
The most recent Yan contribution to creative cancer research, as analysed by Bik, is this:
T Tian, C Bi, AL Hein, X Zhang, C Wang, S Shen, J Yuan, TC Greiner, C Enke, J Vose, Y Yan, K Fu Rac1 is a novel therapeutic target in mantle cell lymphoma Blood Cancer Journal (2018) doi: 10.1038/s41408-018-0052-0
Now, it is popular in these days of Trumpian MAGA racist paranoia to blame foreign saboteurs, especially the Chinese. Yet the following paper lacks any foreign influence, it is as American as a counterfeit apple pie, featuring as its two authors Cowan and Scott Stoeger, now general surgeon at Oelwein Medical Center in Iowa:
SM Stoeger & KH Cowan Characterization of kinase suppressor of Ras-1 expression and anticancer drug sensitivity in human cancer cell lines Cancer Chemotherapy and Pharmacology (2009) doi: 10.1007/s00280-008-0794-7
It’s the loading controls again, which apparently needed rigging after somebody mis-loaded the analytic gels in order to obtain the desired result.
In 2018, JBC corrected another Cowan and Stoeger coauthored paper from University of Nebraska, the figure was so plumply and obviously manipulated that the journal probably assumed pitiful stupidity while not wanting to punish the Cowan’s possibly clueless collaborators:
GL Razidlo, HJ. Johnson, SM Stoeger, KH Cowan, T Bessho, RE Lewis KSR1 is required for cell cycle reinitiation following DNA damage The Journal of biological chemistry (2009) doi: 10.1074/jbc.m806457200 ; Correction 7 December 2018.
Maybe not so clueless after all. Tadayoshi Bessho is associate professor at Eppley Institute, and he is listed on another Yan-coauthored paper, also corrected. The notice appeared just 4 months after Bik notified the journal, and at least we are not educated that the conclusions are not affected. Because they very much are.
ZY Pessetto, Y Yan, T Bessho, A Natarajan Inhibition of BRCT(BRCA1)-phosphoprotein interaction enhances the cytotoxic effect of olaparib in breast cancer cells: a proof of concept study for synthetic lethal therapeutic option Breast Cancer Research and Treatment (2012) doi: 10.1007/s10549-012-2079-4 ; Erratum 16 February 2016
Would you like to know why the panel for nuclear marker Lamin came to be identical to that for the cytoplasm marker GAPDH? Because most likely, the experiments were never done as described, or at all. But the journal barely minded, even in the correction the authors were allowed to leave standing a pointlessly empty GAPD panel at the bottom of the figure. Who needs controls.
Now the question is: who cares about how University of Nebraska cures cancer in Photoshop, as long as the NIH money flows? Actually, maybe Bik’s emails to the University of Nebraska had some effect after all: Cowan resigned as director of the affiliated Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center in October 2018, although he “will remain as a full-time faculty member and will continue to see patients.” The Center only opened in 2017.
The last sentence in the press release is a giveaway that Cowan’s resignation was probably rash and unplanned, since normally such resignations happen after a successor was recruited:
“Chancellor Gold indicated that a national search for the next director of the Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center will be organized rapidly to ensure a smooth transition“.
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