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Pier Paolo Pandolfi out of Harvard, spotted in Italy and Nevada

Star cancer researcher Pier Paolo Pandolfi left Harvard. The allegations are very serious, but do his new employers in Nevada and Italy mind?

The titan of cancer research, one of Italy’s star scientists in USA, Pier Paolo Pandolfi, is officially still listed at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Harvard, as director of the cancer genetics program. Except that he isn’t there anymore.

Science journalist Michael Balter tweeted namely:

#Cancer researcher Pier Pandolfi was forced to leave Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center because of #MeToo #STEMToo allegations (kept secret.) He has now found a home at DRI and Renown Health. @BIDMChealth has passed the harasser”

#MeToo is the well-known code for sexual harassment and sexual abuse. The news was independently confirmed by my own source, who indicated to me already in early November 2019 that Pandolfi left Harvard, back then without having any further details or proof. The same source now confirmed that sexual harassment allegations were indeed raised against Pandolfi.

Noteworthy, Pandolfi was also known in the scientific community for pushing unreliable research results. 30 papers of his are discussed on PubPeer, but apparently suspected research misconduct was not the reason why Pandolfi left Harvard.

Two research institutions meanwhile proudly announced being graced by Pandolfi’s arrival. Harvard Medical School remains completely silent, even though Pandolfi was using his Harvard affiliation (and no other) just last week.

First, Italy.

That was a logical destination for a native Italian who lost his once grand standing in USA. It also fits that five years ago, Pandolfi was “knighted” by the Republic of Italy and received the title of the “Officer of the Order of the Star of Italy” from the Italian President. Italian academia is quite corruption-ridden and often celebrates the most inappropriate people.

The Istituto Veneto di Medicina Molecolare (VIMM) in Padova, run by the Fondazione per la Ricerca Biomedica Avanzata di Padova, announced on 20 May 2020 to have a new scientific director: Pandolfi. The VIMM institutional website prefers to keep its leadership team secret, but the foundation lists Luca Scorrano as the current scientific director of VIMM.

We also learn elsewhere that the foundation’s director is a certain Francesco Pagano, very excited to welcome Pandolfi. Another senior scientist featuring in the news announcement is Andrea Alimonti, who recently published a paper together with Pagano proposing to treat COVID-19 with “androgen-deprivation therapies”, an idea which grows increasingly popular since more men than women die from the coronavirus. This fits nicely, because also Pandolfi is already working on coronavirus therapies, together with Italian partners:

Pandolfi is quoted in Italian newspapers:

It makes me very proud to take the leadership of VIMM and to be able to bring my long American experience back to Italy. The basis of our daily work will be research of the highest level in order to develop a true medicine of “ultra-precision”, in order to cure still incurable diseases that still afflict humanity today

VIMM scientific advisory board however includes some real stars: Jean-Pierre Changeux, emeritus of Institut Pasteur, who most recently proposed tobacco products as COVID-19 preventive, stem cell luminary Rudolph Jaenisch, also from MIT David Sabatini (my readers will understand now why VIMM recruited Pandolfi) and even the late Sir Michael Berridge (who died in February, but apparently still advises VIMM).

The other appointment: Nevada.

On 18 May 2020, a press release was issued that Pandolfi will join the Desert Research Institute (DRI) in Reno, Nevada, to become Director of the Renown Institute for Cancer at the DRI’s Renown Institute for Health Innovation, whatever that is. If you never heard of DRI and their Gilead-sponsored Renown Institute, in biomedical context at least, this is exactly why Pandolfi goes there, because no serious US university will take him anymore apparently. It is Pandolfi’s last anchor in the USA, but how will he divide his work between leading VIMM in Italy and DRI in Nevada?

The press release quotes the celebrity arrival:

“Dr. Pandolfi will divide his time between Reno and Italy, also leading a cancer research institute in his home country that will foster knowledge exchange and international cancer research collaborations between Italy and Nevada.

As a cancer researcher, my mission is to cure cancer. The Healthy Nevada Project and the combined resources of Renown Health and DRI give us access to an unprecedented amount of longitudinal data and the valuable genetic information we need to continue to improve our understanding of the molecular mechanisms of cancer and tailor approaches for treatments and cures that are unique to each individual” said Dr. Pandolfi.

I am proud to take the unique resource of the Healthy Nevada Project, and use the information to accelerate our work to provide a population-level view of those factors that drive cancer, build better models and perhaps, timely new treatments. I am excited to build a strong collaborative bridge between the state of Nevada with our colleagues in Italy and across Europe, which will allow for the exchange of research fellows, physicians, scientists, and interns,” added Pandolfi.”

Read between the lines: no research grants or any financial or material support worth mentioning is on offer for Pandolfi’s new lab at DRI, and the Italians for sure will not be sharing either. The DRI and VIMM are apparently gambling on the NIH and the EU Commission, respectively, to not know why Pandolfi left Harvard and to cough up lots of grant cash because he is such a star.

Some papers

I previously discussed some Pandolfi papers in an earlier article about US cancer researchers. Here it is again:

S Zhong , P Salomoni , S Ronchetti , A Guo , D Ruggero , PP Pandolfi Promyelocytic leukemia protein (PML) and Daxx participate in a novel nuclear pathway for apoptosis The Journal of Experimental Medicine (2000) doi: 10.1084/jem.191.4.631

In both figures, someone inadvertently copy-pasted several bands, flipped them, stretched and retouched where needed, and voila, loading control for 8 lanes is ready. Happens daily. Another example of Pandolfi’s quality cancer research:

BS Carver , J Tran , A Gopalan , Z Chen , S Shaikh , A Carracedo , A Alimonti , C Nardella , S Varmeh , PT Scardino , C Cordon-Cardo , W Gerald , PP Pandolfi Aberrant ERG expression cooperates with loss of PTEN to promote cancer progression in the prostate Nature Genetics (2009) doi: 10.1038/ng.370

An image of a cell culture, copy-pasted and differently cropped by mistake of oversight to stand in for two different experiments. Not the only mistake in that paper: an gel image got re-used also.

E. M. Rego , L.-Z. He , R. P. Warrell , Z.-G. Wang , P. P. Pandolfi Retinoic acid (RA) and As2O3 treatment in transgenic models of acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL) unravel the distinct nature of the leukemogenic process induced by the PML-RARalpha and PLZF-RARalpha oncoproteins Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2000) doi: 10.1073/pnas.180290497

How can the same cell reappear in different images of physically different experiments? That was a “communicated” paper, meaning a friendly NAS member submitted it without proper peer review, but on endorsement from other friends.

C Giorgi , K Ito , HK Lin , C Santangelo , MR Wieckowski , M Lebiedzinska , A Bononi , M Bonora , J Duszynski , R Bernardi , R Rizzuto , C Tacchetti , Paolo P , PP Pandolfi PML regulates apoptosis at endoplasmic reticulum by modulating calcium release Science (2010) doi: 10.1126/science.1189157 

That image duplication (shifted and zoomed!) was spotted by Elisabeth Bik, presumable one among a number of problematic Science papers she reported to the journal’s editors years ago, to no avail.

L Ma , J Teruya-Feldstein , P Bonner , R Bernardi , DN Franz , D Witte , C Cordon-Cardo , PP Pandolfi Identification of S664 TSC2 phosphorylation as a marker for extracellular signal-regulated kinase mediated mTOR activation in tuberous sclerosis and human cancer Cancer Research (2007) doi: 10.1158/0008-5472.can-06-4798 

Are those really neighbouring tissue sections stained with different antibodies, highlighted in Figure 3A? Not likely, sequential sections are shown in other panels of this figure, and they don’t look identical. These two endometrium images seem to be same image, just shifted and colour-adjusted.

In 2016, a Cell paper from Pandolfi lab was corrected for a duplicated FACS plot. Other papers remain untouched.

Maybe now the journals will bother? This happened after another Harvard titan from Italy, Piero Anversa suddenly left for Switzerland (I was the first to figure out where: the Cardiocentro Ticino).

Regarding Pandolfi’s case: I will update this article when I obtain more information about his abrupt and stealth departure from Harvard.


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8 comments on “Pier Paolo Pandolfi out of Harvard, spotted in Italy and Nevada

  1. In Nevada, prostitution is legal in certain counties. The near availability of consensual-for-a-price sex may be an attractive feature of his new location. In short: hookers galore, for the willing. Could be a nice perk.


    • Sexual harassment is not primarily about sex, but about power, humiliation, and perverse entitlement . A Harvard professor can sure afford to run a private bordello, but where is the fun in that?

      Liked by 1 person

    • Zebedee

      2 jobs in 2 scenic parts of the world (West Coast only a short flight away from Reno, Nevada),
      many air miles to be collected in due course.
      2 jobs likely pay better than 1. What more could you ask?


  2. owlbert

    Gonna be tough getting international flights. And then there’s the 2-week quarantine at either end.


  3. This does not seem like punishment for a very questionable researcher.

    In science, cheating pays handsomely, as long as you are smart enough to hire people that are smart enough to cover their tracks beyond the insightful eyes of Dr. Bik and JBC editors. As Mark Knopfler said, “look at them yo-yo’s, that’s the way you do it (!)…money for nothing and your chicks for free….”

    Liked by 1 person

    • Antonio

      It’s amazing that in out current political climate we would declare that the Italians “celebrate the most inappropriate people”. Sure they’ll let you be a prime minister even though you were a pornstar but the two have nothing to do with one another. Here in the US Harvard is willing to let somebody who it appears falsifies research to continue to do so but if a woman makes an allegation THEN they’ll get rid of him. Proud times.


  4. Zebedee

    Genes Cancer . 2011 Nov;2(11):1061-6. doi: 10.1177/1947601912440877.
    Cellular Senescence as a Possible Mechanism for Halting Progression of Keloid Lesions
    Shohreh Varmeh 1, Ainara Egia, Duncan McGrouther, Steven R Tahan, Ardeshir Bayat, Pier Paolo Pandolfi

    1Department of Surgery, Thyroid Cancer Research Laboratory, Endocrine Surgery Unit, Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, USA.

    Figure 4. Much more similar than expected.


  5. What about NIH in all this? They are fine with him keeping the grant?


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