Research integrity

George Iliakis, the pride of Ruhrgebiet

With the German professor George Iliakis, I would like to celebrate all the grand old patriarchs of cancer research who built this gigantic field and saved the lives of many patients, with good, solid and hard work. In Photoshop.

As someone with a strong connection to the Ruhrgebiet in Germany, and in particular to the city of Duisburg, I want to congratulate the University of Duisburg Essen to their stroke of genius 20 years ago in recruiting Dr George Iliakis as their faculty member and professor for medical radiation biology.

Professor Iliakis used to work at the Kimmel Cancer Center at Thomas Jefferson University, Philadelphia, USA, and there he published his groundbreaking research on DNA damage and DNA repair, all of which will certainly pave the way to curing cancer. With Photoshop. Lots of it. You won’t believe how much, because the early 2000s were the Golden Age of Photoshop in biomedical sciences and everyone was doing it like there is no tomorrow. Come to think of it, many, if not all, of our today’s venerable grand old patriarchs of cancer research made it to where they are now also thanks to a certain artistic attitude to research data. Everyone wants their share of that past Photoshop stardom, and this is why the University Duisburg-Essen has cancer solved, all thanks to Professor George Iliakis.

Professor Iliakis presents his artwork to a fellow art connoisseur, Carlo Croce. Original photo: University Duisburg-Essen.

Iliakis is one of these great old men of science we are supposed to admire, because they did so much for cancer research. A native Greek, Iliakis did his PhD in Frankfurt, Germany. In early 1980ies he moved to USA, because this is how German academia worked. You do your doctoral degree, then you go to America for some years, and then you return to your waiting faculty chair, celebrated as the master of the great art of American science, which is truly superior to everything the rest of the world ever achieved.

Iliakis stayed in USA for 18 years, and made a great career at Kimmel Cancer Center, as director of the Division of Experimental Radiation Oncology. But at some point Iliakis mysteriously had enough of American money and fame, so he left his huge American salary and his gigantic NIH funding behind, in order to move to the world-renowned university clinic of the world-top-ranking University of Duisburg-Essen in world’s fanciest location, the Ruhrgebiet, surprisingly modestly funded by the DFG. Professor Iliakis will soon retire, having trained many young scientists in the high art of cancer research.

Now the image integrity sleuth Clare Francis looked at some of Iliakis papers from USA, posted his finds on PubPeer, and found artistic beauty where others would find despair.

J Guan , E Stavridi , DB. Leeper , G Iliakis Effects of hyperthermia on p53 protein expression and activity Journal of Cellular Physiology (2002) DOI: 10.1002/jcp.10069

Now, p53 is a very important protein in cancer research, and it can do funny things under hyperthermic conditions. Somehow some bands from Figure 1C cloned and inserted themselves into the gels of Figure 1B, having been cooled from 41°C to 37°C. Professor Iliakis and his first author Jun Guan however explained that this is perfectly OK:

“We noticed this issue before sending out our work for publication. As I mentioned in my previous comment, the highlighted bands of each control circled in the red and blue boxes were obtained in different experiments.”

For them, the issue is closed. Neither Iliakis nor Guan ever commented again, which is a pity.

Wang H, Perrault AR, Takeda Y, Qin W, Wang H, Iliakis G. Biochemical evidence for Ku-independent backup pathways of NHEJ Nucleic Acids Research (2003) doi: 10.1093/nar/gkg728

In these examples, Professor Iliakis’ group studied non-homologous end-joining (NHEJ) DNA repair and found out it to be actually a splicing tool in Adobe Photoshop. Basically, here damaged academic pride activates a Photoshop-mediated figure recombination process, where a piece of gel lanes gets replicated and spliced where it achieves novel results.

One year later, in the same journal, Iliakis studied how DNA is replicated after damage. It turned out, the same mechanism replicates gel bands, quite hilariously so.

X Wang , J Guan , B Hu , RS Weiss , G Iliakis , Y Wang Involvement of Hus1 in the chain elongation step of DNA replication after exposure to camptothecin or ionizing radiation Nucleic Acids Research (2004) doi: 10.1093/nar/gkh243

In America, they do big science and they do it properly. What you see here, is advanced US technology, sponsored by many millions from NIH. Of course University of Duisburg-Essen was honoured to host such star scientist in their university clinic. Just look at this high-tech gel:

Clare Francis suggested this figure looks like an artwork by Paul Klee.

Even the Editor-in-Chief of the journal Nucleic Acids Research (NAR) and University of Southampton professor Keith Fox was impressed by the artwork. Fox replied to Clare Francis in January 2020:

“Thank you for drawing these things to our attention. We will investigate and take any appropriate action.”

It is not clear which action Fox meant, since his own NAR until recently used to have a policy not to do anything about papers older than 2 years. The usual action NAR editors take in such cases, is to write to authors not to worry since the journal does not to intend to act in any way.

NAR guidelines from June 2019. The highlighted sentence was removed since.

Much of Iliakis’ groundbreaking research at Kimmel Cancer Center, like this beautiful Wang et al NAR 2004 paper, was done in collaboration with the radiation oncologist Ya Wang, originally from China. Professor Wang now moved on to the Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University in Atlanta, where she continues to receive much NIH money for her extraordinary cancer research. Wang’s specific qualifications are certified by around 20 papers flagged on PubPeer for Photoshop data enhancement.

This Iliakis-Wang collaboration is also artistically valuable, even if somewhat lazily executed.

H Wang, H Wang, SN. Powell, G Iliakis, Y Wang ATR affecting cell radiosensitivity is dependent on homologous recombination repair but independent of nonhomologous end joining Cancer Research (2004) doi: 10.1158/0008-5472.can-04-1289

What happens when you irradiate cells, is that gel bands get replicated in the process of non-homologous end joining.

That we already learned, from other Iliakis studies. But there is also this process of homologous recombination, where flow cytometry plots get replicated and recombined with different numbers. That happens when fantastic research needs to be published in a journal where nobody cares about such things. As AACR journal Cancer Research at least used to be. In fact, in 2002, Iliakis and Wang placed two papers in Cancer Research which have certain artistic quality to them.

X Wang , GC Li , G Iliakis , Y Wang Ku affects the CHK1-dependent G(2) checkpoint after ionizing radiation Cancer Research (2002) Nov 1;62(21):6031-4.

Apparently, there is a kind of checkpoint activated by the DNA damage where gel bands are forced, under gun point presumably, to exit their gel vehicles and join some previously arrested gel bands inside a different panel of the same figure, for interrogation. Sometime these gel bands are just shuffled back and forth inside same gel until they admit to smuggling and document forgery, like in this other Cancer Research paper:

XY Zhou , X Wang , B Hu , J Guan , G Iliakis , Y Wang An ATM-independent S-phase checkpoint response involves CHK1 pathway Cancer Research (2002) Mar 15;62(6):1598-603.

The two Cancer Research papers from 2002 also share a joint figure, even if they are supposed to show different experiments with different antisense oligonucleotide sequences:

As reminder, these papers were all published after 2001, when Iliakis moved to Essen, most of them bear his Ruhrgebiet affiliation. I personally am enormously proud for the University of Duisburg-Essen. Professor Iliakis is an asset, may he never retire.


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15 comments on “George Iliakis, the pride of Ruhrgebiet

  1. Carlo Croce has proudly said he has an eye for masterpieces. The Paul Klee imitation could be a part of his collection.

    Is the best analogy that of non-homolgous recombination, or multiple transposons at work?

    I really believe that if the deadwood and cheating faculty were to magically disappear (that would indeed be great magic), 1/2 the faculty would be gone, and probably more than half of the NIH grant money would be no longer wasted on overheads for deadwood salaries and supplies for crap data from cheater labs.

    I think my inscription on my tombstone might be: “I’m dead, sure, but at least I wasn’t deadwood.”


    • alfricabos

      Can you imagine if the NIH was actively looking at fraud in its current grant applications? even better, if they were to retroactively search for fraud in funded research?


  2. ” Professor Wang now moved on to the Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University in Atlanta, where she continues to receive much NIH money for her extraordinary cancer research. Wang’s specific qualifications are certified by around 20 papers flagged on PubPeer for Photoshop data enhancement.”

    Because of the relatively few Chinese surnames the Pubpeer link includes some who are not Ya Wang.

    Individual publications for Ya Wang at Pubpeer:-


  3. “Kimmel Cancer Center at Thomas Jefferson University”.
    Is there something about the ecological niche?
    Thomas Jefferson University, and University Hospital Philadelphia
    “Director, Sidney Kimmel Cancer Centre, 2005-2015.”

    “Georgetown University and University Hospital, Washington, DC”

    Albert Einstein College of Medicine, New York

    Pubpeer record.


  4. What disturbs me about many papers by George Iliakis is the lack of data which can be scrutinised. Many papers show graphs, which we have to take a face value. David Latchman also has many publications where there are only graphs.


  5. Problematic data Director of the Gastrointestinal Oncology Program Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University

    Angiogenesis. 2013 Oct;16(4):903-17.

    Angiogenesis. 2013 Oct;16(4):903-17. doi: 10.1007/s10456-013-9364-7. Epub 2013 Jul 10.
    Antiangiogenic effects of ganetespib in colorectal cancer mediated through inhibition of HIF-1α and STAT-3.
    Nagaraju GP1, Park W, Wen J, Mahaseth H, Landry J, Farris AB, Willingham F, Sullivan PS, Proia DA, El-Hariry I, Taliaferro-Smith L, Diaz R, El-Rayes BF.
    Author information
    Department of Hematology and Medical Oncology, Emory University, 1365 Clifton RD NE, Office 2080, Atlanta, GA, 30322, USA.

    Figure 6b. Much more similar than you would expect.




    After completion of the residency, he joined the hematology oncology fellowship program at the Karmanos Cancer Institute at Wayne State University.

    Mol Cancer Ther. 2004 Nov;3(11):1421-6.
    Cyclooxygenase-2-dependent and -independent effects of celecoxib in pancreatic cancer cell lines.
    El-Rayes BF1, Ali S, Sarkar FH, Philip PA.
    Author information
    Department of Hematology and Oncology, Karmanos Cancer Institute, Wayne State University, 4100 John R. Street, Detroit, MI 48201, USA.

    Figure 4. Much more similar than you would expect.


  7. 2016 retraction for Director of the Gastrointestinal Oncology Program Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University

    J Cell Biochem. 2010 May;110(1):171-81. doi: 10.1002/jcb.22523.
    Concurrent inhibition of NF-kappaB, cyclooxygenase-2, and epidermal growth factor receptor leads to greater anti-tumor activity in pancreatic cancer.
    Ali S1, Banerjee S, Schaffert JM, El-Rayes BF, Philip PA, Sarkar FH.
    Author information
    Division of Hematology/Oncology, Karmanos Cancer Institute, Wayne State University, Detroit, Michigan 48201, USA.

    2016 retraction notice.

    The above article, published online on March 8, 2010 in Wiley Online Library (, has been retracted by agreement between the journal Editor in Chief, Gary S. Stein, and Wiley Periodicals, Inc. The retraction has been agreed following an investigation from Wayne State University involving the first author and the corresponding author that found Figures 2A, 4, 6A, and 6C to be inappropriately manipulated.


    Ali S, Banerjee S, Schaffert JM, El‐Rayes BF, Philip PA, Sarkar FH. 2010. Concurrent inhibition of NF‐κB, cyclooxygenase‐2, and epidermal growth factor receptor leads to greater anti‐tumor activity in pancreatic cancer. J Cell Biochem 110:171–181; doi: 10.1002/jcb.22523


  8. 2018 retraction for Director of the Gastrointestinal Oncology Program Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University

    Cancer Res. 2006 Nov 1;66(21):10553-9.
    Potentiation of the effect of erlotinib by genistein in pancreatic cancer: the role of Akt and nuclear factor-kappaB.
    El-Rayes BF1, Ali S, Ali IF, Philip PA, Abbruzzese J, Sarkar FH.
    Author information
    Division of Hematology/Oncology, Department of Pathology, Karmanos Cancer Institute, Wayne State University, Detroit, Michigan 48201, USA.

    2018 retraction notice.
    This article (1) has been retracted at the request of the editors. Following an institutional review by Wayne State University (Detroit, MI), the primary affiliation for several of the authors, it was determined that the article (1) included falsification and/or fabrication of Western blot bands in multiple panels of Figs. 2 and 5. As a result of these findings, the institution recommended retraction and, upon internal review, the editors agree with this recommendation.

    A copy of this Retraction Notice was sent to the last known email addresses for four of the six authors. Three authors (B.F. El-Rayes, P.A. Philip, and J. Abbruzzese) agreed to the retraction; one author (F.H. Sarkar) did not respond; the two remaining authors (S. Ali and I.F. Ali) could not be located.


  9. Life Sci. 2009 May 22;84(21-22):766-71. doi: 10.1016/j.lfs.2009.03.007. Epub 2009 Mar 24.
    Protein kinases C isozymes are differentially expressed in human breast carcinomas.
    Ali S1, Al-Sukhun S, El-Rayes BF, Sarkar FH, Heilbrun LK, Philip PA.
    Author information
    Division of Hematology/Oncology, Karmanos Cancer Institute, Wayne State University, Detroit, MI 48201, United States.

    Figures 1 and 3. Much more similar than you would expect, except the samples are different.

    Not much use as Director of the Gastrointestinal Oncology Program Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University if he cannot spot problematic data in his own publications.


    • Clin Cancer Res. 2004 Jul 1;10(13):4412-6.Cytochrome p450 and glutathione transferase expression in squamous cell cancer.Ali S1, El-Rayes BF, Heilbrun LK, Sarkar FH, Ensley JF, Kucuk O, Philip PA.Author information1Karmanos Cancer Institute, Wayne State University, Detroit, Michigan, USA.

      Figure 2. 


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