The Dutch-born biologist Jan van Deursen is a very senior figure in the field of cancer and ageing research, and more specifically, in the field of mitotic cell division. His personal profile and lab websites at the Mayo Clinic at Rochester, Minnesota (USA), its Cancer Center and the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology are still online.
Only that Professor van Deursen has apparently left, months ago even, and apparently not voluntarily. It is all very hush-hush.
Bob Nellis, manager of research communications at the Mayo Clinic, confirmed van Deursen’s removal to me:
“Mayo Clinic is in the process of responsibly concluding the research activities associated with Dr. van Deursen’s laboratory, including the important work of our students and employees. By policy we do not discuss publicly discuss personnel matters.“
Update 24.06.2020. A source wrote to me with this timeline of events:
“an investigation into his treatment of employees and students had begun around late November. [Jan van Deursen] was placed on administrative leave on 16th December 2019 and he was asked to never return on 21st January 2020, the same time at which the rest of the lab was informed“.
Why did van Deursen leave, his PhD students and postdocs left behind for others to take care of? It transpires, over accusations of “bullying and unhealthy lab environment”, as his lab members were informed, which Nellis did not deny when specifically asked to. A reader told me this:
“Van Deursen was forced to retire about 6 months ago by Mayo after an investigation into accusations of denying a student maternity leave, and for a long history of abuse and manipulation over his students and employees. […] However, he has since been given opportunities to go to new institutions, possibly in Texas or John’s Hopkins, and his abuse will definitely continue there as no one outside of Mayo knows about what has happened. He has purposefully delayed students graduating, denied vacation, denied overtime for years. The abuses he has yelled and threatened students and employees with, has caused depression and mental issues […]
I know his senescence results have gotten raised eyebrows over the last couple years, and there have been issues with reproducibility by fellow and neighboring labs. The pressure that he puts on students to give him the result he wants is unbelievable. He can’t see beyond what he thinks the result should be, and won’t accept the answer if it doesn’t match with what he’s made up in his mind.“
Johannes Martinus Adrianus van Deursen studied in Nijmegen, Netherlands, but moved to US after his PhD (his CV here). In 1999, he joined the Mayo Clinic, where he was (until his recent removal) Chair of the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and, without any medicine training, Consultant (senior physician) and professor of Pediatrics at the Mayo Clinic. Among his honours are honorary professorships at universities of Nijmegen and Groningen (reader comment below reveals that the Groningen professorship ended recently).
van Deursen also co-founded the company Unity Biotechnology which aims to sell drugs to remove senescent cells and rejuvenate the body. The anti-aging field is indeed where big money is made with big promises, people spoke of “fountain of youth” when discussing van Deursen’s discoveries. In 2019, he celebrated such senolytic approach to anti-aging in a perspective in Science. Both van Deursen and his company Unity Biotechnology were promoted in a 2018 Guardian article.
Despite, or because of his leadership style, van Deursen’s Mayo lab received a constant stream of NIH grants, the most recent R01 grant was awarded in 2020. He published in all the top journals. Despite the above cited rumours or irreproducibility, there are so far no PubPeer or any other records of data manipulation in van Deursen papers. If Mayo Clinic really made him to resign over bullying, the bullying must have been very bad indeed.
My own interactions with van Deursen were about his participation in the 2018 semi-private We-Stand-With-Rudolph conference in Jena, Germany, which sole purpose was to restore the damaged scientific reputation of another senescence researcher, K Lenhard Rudolph. The latter was forced to resign as director of his Jena Institute, found guilty of research misconduct by his own Leibniz Society and by the national research funder, the DFG, and explicitly shamed in public press releases and news reports, something which happens in Germany extremely rarely. Rudolph also featured in German newspapers over animal abuse in his institute, police raids included, another absolute no-no in Germany. In short, what Rudolph, formerly a star of ageing research and Germany’s top scientist, has done, must have been very bad to cause such public shaming in Germany.
Back in December 2017, van Deursen claimed first to be unaware of the recent misconduct findings against Rudolph, and added: “Presenting at the conference will be to advance the science on aging and should not be linked to the issues your mentioned“. I also alerted van Deursen to problems with other meeting participants, like Pura Munoz-Canovez. Less than an hour later, he wrote to me again:
“I had no knowledge of the issues until today when I opened the links you provided. Are you recommending that I withdraw from the meeting at this point because of issues with Drs. Rudolph and Canoves. Do you think the meeting should be cancelled or organized by someone else.”
I cannot now out if van Deursen participated in Rudolph’s Jena 2018 meeting or not. But he sure was not listed in the speakers list of the follow-up September 2020 meeting in Jena which is still scheduled to continue, COVID-19 or not. Rudolph’s reputation is more important.
Why am I telling you all this? van Deursen’s last message to me, on same 4 December 2017, was:
“Keep up the good work on issues of scientific integrity. My best, Jan“
Various former lab members of the now defunct van Deursen lab reached out to me. Allegedly, the former Mayo Clinic professor “yelled” at the aforementioned pregnant student “at the graduate school office for an hour”, and insulted her in front of the associate dean and the administrative leader.
Same source wrote:
“Jan van Deursen did a lot of things…including stating that Muslims are terrorists, women are able to get jobs because they probably slept with someone, bullied an employee with cancer, physically intimidated women in 1-1 meetings and insulted people during lab meetings and daily private meetings.“
“About Bennett Childs. He was also bullied, although not as much as others. The people that had it worse were anything other than white males. Bennett enabled Jan in a way. One time in lab meeting Jan stormed off because one student was not ready. Jan asked Bennett to address it. Bennett closed the doors, yelled at us some more and make the student go to Jan to apologize. She did, reluctantly, and came back with clear discomfort on her face and voice.
Darren Baker, although a nice guy, has been very supportive of Jan, and had said how tragic it is he has to leave mayo. Everyone in the lab is hurt by Darren’s comments.
People in the lab are still required to send emails to Jan to update and he is still very much in control of what happens in the lab.”
Another source alleged that “99% of data that were not able to be reproduced over decades in the lab by anyone are traced back to Darren Baker and Bennett Childs“. Other sources reached me over their friends and are also considering speaking out.
More van Deursen revelations from the source:
“When the mouse tech decided to leave the lab, he yelled at her telling her she was a shitty person and if she went to HR he would give bad recommendations to her boyfriend (graduate student in the lab).
He even yelled at his wife [Janine van Ree] during lab meeting. His wife is still in the lab, pushing his agenda. During the investigations she was asking people to go to HR and say good things.“
van Ree is listed on van Deursen’s CV as “Postdoctoral Fellow” he mentored, “10/2006 -01/2011”. Allegedly, Mayo Clinic ordered lab members to keep reporting their research progress to van Deursen. With his wife watching over them in the lab.
While I am waiting for the Mayo Clinic to explain why van Deursen’s lab members are forced to constantly report to their alleged abuser, yet another former trainee described his wife as “the least motivated, lazy, selfish” member of the van Deursen lab. The source added regarding van Ree:
“She believes that people who work on the same project as her are her property and she can control and order them around to do her mundane work while she gets to go home early or take time off/vacation. She was partially responsible for a student leaving the lab last year because of the way he was treated by her and her husband. […] Despite the PI not on campus anymore, it is true that van Ree pushes his agenda from time to time, even at virtual lab meetings. She spies on the current students on what they are doing in their projects, how many hours are they working, and sometimes hints at them to reply promptly to her husband’s emails.“
Bullying and data manipulation go hand in hand, the former done by PI causes the latter done by lab members. First very serious case of possible Photoshop fraud in van Deursen’s lab:
X Wang , JR Babu , JM. Harden , SA. Jablonski , MH. Gazi , WL. Lingle , PC. De Groen , TJ. Yen , JMA. Van Deursen The mitotic checkpoint protein hBUB3 and the mRNA export factor hRAE1 interact with GLE2p-binding sequence (GLEBS)-containing proteins Journal of Biological Chemistry (2001) doi: 10.1074/jbc.m101083200
It is not just heavy lane splicing in every single panel. The fragments look suspiciously copy-pasted (highlighted with colour boxes). This and another van Deursen coauthored paper (Riedlinger et al 2017) are flagged in the comment section.
This article is being updated with new information as it arrives.
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