Schneider Shorts of 23 July 2021: Pentagon declares war on old age, Cell being sneaky, French authorities not sure how to deal with fraud, with a suicide gene, more coffee, Neanderthals being stupid again and another Austrian genius saving the world from COVID-19.
Updated on For Better Science
CNRS and research fraud
In the wake of my reporting about research fraud in the papers of Olivier Voinnet, Catherine Jessus and Anne Peyroche, the French Centre national de la recherche scientifique (CNRS) teeth-gnashingly established in November 2018 a research integrity office, led by physicist Rémy Mosseri. Right away, I reported Laurence Drouard, director of CNRS’ Institut de biologie moléculaire des plantes (IBMP) in Strasbourg and Voinnet’s former superior, for research misconduct. Becasue every fish stinks from the head, and Drouard’s papers and PhD dissertations she supervised are very fishy indeed.
This was my report (actually ghost-written by a reader), describing instances of data manipulation in more than a dozen of research papers from 2002 to 2017:
In December 2019, Mosseri informed me that he submitted his report to CNRS president Antoine Petit, where he “formulated several recommandations concerning possible corrections.” In October 2020, I asked Mosseri if CNRS made a decision, he referred me again to Petit. Problem is, Petit never replied to my emails before, but he was quoted to have called me an “asshole” back when I exposed the research misconduct by the CNRS chief biologist Jessus.
So what secret punishment did CNRS devise for Drouard? Well, for one I found out she was assigned to teaching research integrity to IBMP’s students. She also stepped down as editorial board member of Nucleic Acids Research sometime in 2020, maybe because the worst forgeries were published (and corrected) there. I also know Drouard is soon retiring as IBMP director, but that was planned anyway. IBMP pretends to seek an new external candidate, but Drouard’s likely successor will be her current adjunct director Philippe Giegé, husband of Drouard’s former PhD student and now tenured IBMP researcher, Thalia Salinas. Salinas is the one with the badly fudged thesis and papers, and her reward was a promotion by CNRS. To be fair, they do love a bit of the Photoshop at IBMP, maybe be it’s the Voinnet effect, but it makes performance evaluations of that institute quite tricky.
So what did Drouard get then after the Mosseri investigation, you sure can’t wait to learn?
A fat juicy research grant of around half a million Euro.
Clare Francis commented about the recent editorial note on one Cell Press paper by star scientists of Weill Cornell, John Blenis and Lewis Cantley.
Andrew Y Choo 1, Sang Gyun Kim, Matthew G Vander Heiden, Sarah J Mahoney, Hieu Vu, Sang-Oh Yoon, Lewis C Cantley, John Blenis Glucose addiction of TSC null cells is caused by failed mTORC1-dependent balancing of metabolic demand with supply Molecular Cell (2010) doi: 10.1016/j.molcel.2010.05.007.
This was the editorial note from 15 July 2021:
We, the editors of Molecular Cell, were contacted by a concerned reader who informed us about a duplicated image that appears in Figure 2A and Figure S1E of the above paper. These images are pictures of untreated control TSC2-/- p53-/- mouse embryonic fibroblasts. The authors no longer have access to the original data published 11 years ago, but they believe that these images likely came from the same experiment. Dr. Blenis apologized for the inadvertent duplication and not clearly labeling that these images are from the same experiment. Without access to the original data, a correction is not possible. Given the age of the paper and that the duplication does not compromise the conclusions of the paper, based on the information available to us at this time, we believe that no further action is warranted.
Now, the first PubPeer comment was placed on 28th of January 2015, the paper was less than 5 years old then. It described the problem without visualising it.
The comment by Vernonia Abyssinica added the visualisation on 14 June 2017. Thus, the journal was likely informed in time.
This means, Cell Press was waiting 6 years to declare that the paper is finally too old to ask for raw data and to do anything about. This may be clever, but it’s not nice. Elsevier is taking us all for a ride and having a laugh while we pay them millions in tax money.
But then again, same Molecular Cell once told a Dutch university to get lost, their retraction requests were rejected. The university (LUMC Leiden) then kept twisting the last author’s (Leon Mullenders’) arm so he writes to the journal and asks for retraction, eventually Mullenders complied.
Molecular Cell still said no.
Balter lawsuit over
Another court case settled. The #MeTooStem journalist Balter and the anthropologist Danielle Kurin agreed to end the lawsuit with a settlement. Balter was sued because Kurin was sanctioned and denied tenure after he reported how she retaliated against witnesses of her ex-husband’s sexual harassment. Balter now explains:
“None of my reporting about Danielle Kurin will be deleted, retracted, corrected, revised, or clarified in any way. […]
In settling the case, Danielle Kurin and I made a trade, in which each of us gave up something we wanted. For her part, Kurin (and UCSB) agreed to lift the protective order on a document I consider to be the most important of all the thousands of pages we received, the Letter of Censure in which UCSB formally charged and reprimanded Kurin for her misconduct in 2015/2016.
For my part, I have agreed not to write or report about Kurin ever again after the publication of this final blog post.“
Under the settlement, Balter was able to publish this Written Censure Kurin received:
N-Chlorotaurine against COVID-19
The drug discovery pipeline for COVID-19 is quite simple. When the pandemic arrived, every self-respecting scientist (preferably male) who has been for years working of some drug or therapy seeking a disease to cure it with, had a Eureka moment and proposed to use that thing for COVID-19. Here for example the greatest Austrian scientist of all times, Josef Penninger, constantly celebrated by national and international media as the saviour of humanity:
But Austria has more science geniuses. Meet Markus Nagl, professor at the Medical University of Innsbruck. Already in early 2020, Nagl announced to have the potential cure for COVID-19 ready: N-Chlorotaurine, “a body-own mild oxidizing antiseptic“, as Prof Nagl describes it. In May 2020, a clinical trial with COVID-19 patients was announced in the Austrian media, a local pharma company was reported to be upscaling its production to have enough N-Chlorotaurine ready.
As Prof. Nagl’s own research demonstrated (66 papers!), N-Chlorotaurine cures not just all possible bacterial and fungal infections, it also is viricidal, which is more than enough evidence that it is bound to help against COVID-19. Here is the preprint to prove it, from December 2020:
Michaela Lackner , Annika Rössler , André Volland , Marlena Stadtmüller , Brigitte Müllauer , Zoltan Banki , Johannes Ströhle , Angela Luttick , Jennifer Fenner , Heribert Stoiber , Dorothee Von Laer , Thorsten Wolff , Carsten Schwarz , Markus Nagl N-chlorotaurine, a novel inhaled virucidal antiseptic is highly active against respiratory viruses including SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) Research Square (2020) doi: 10.21203/rs.3.rs-118665/v1
Already in 1998, Prof Nagl proved that N-Chlorotaurin works against herpes simplex- and adenoviruses, one year later it was Staphylococcus, later followed enterohemorrhagic Escherichia coli, Candida, Aspergillus, other fungi, Acanthamoeba, Leishmania, Trichomonas vaginalis, Chlamydia etc, it also cured conjunctivitis in phase 2 clinical trials.
The drug was already tested for safety in an earlier phase 1 clinical trial with a grant financed in 2015 by national funder FWF.
A patient charity wrote something in December 2020 about N-Chlorotaurine (NCT) which reads very much like something provided by the University of Innsbruck:
“A phase 2b clinical study in SARS-CoV-2 / COVID-19 patients is currently being planned in Austria and, due to the explosive nature of the topic, can hopefully also be started in Germany soon. In addition, clinical studies on the effectiveness of NCT on resistant germs of the respiratory tract are to be implemented in the next few years.”
I wrote to Nagl and his university’s press office asking if there was already a peer reviewed version of the preprint, and if the clinical trial, announced already in May 2020, has started. Nagl told me he is busy till 26 July, and the press office was unable to answer my simple questions. Which is weird, a university unaware about their own clinical trials and their status. Anyway, there are no registered clinical trials with N-Chlorotaurine on clinicaltrials.gov, for any disease. There is also no peer reviewed version of that preprint on PubMed, the most recent N-Chlorotaurine paper by Nagl declares its excellent performance against MRSA and other multi-resistant bacteria. But the university warned me not to draw any conclusions so I better won’t.
The United States Army was apparently so inspired by that certain category of Hollywood geriatric action movie like Rambo: Last Blood (no, I haven’t watched it!) that the Pentagon has been developing its own anti-aging medicine, probably to rejuvenate their retired soldiers into invincible superheroes who will single-handedly beat up a room full of Taliban in dance club fight. Failing that, the generals can at least get some lead into their pencils and conquer Tinder.
A weird Genetic Engineering online magazine by Liebert Publishers reports:
“U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM)—which develops and employs Special Operations Forces worldwide to advance U.S. policies and objectives—has “completed preclinical safety and dosing studies in anticipation of follow-on performance testing” of a first-in-class nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide, oxidized state (NAD+) enhancer, a small molecule drug being developed by Metro International Biotech (MetroBiotech), Navy Cmdr. Timothy A. Hawkins, a spokesperson for SOCOM, told GEN.
SOCOM and MetroBiotech are set to start clinical trials during the 2022 federal fiscal year, which starts October 1.
“If the preclinical studies and clinical trials bear out, the resulting benefits include improved human performance, such as increased endurance and faster recovery from injury,” Hawkins said. […]
SOCOM has spent $2.8 million on its anti-aging effort since it began in 2018, Hawkins said.”
If this sounds very much like the sirtuin and NAD+ supplements scam by the Harvard professor with a hefty PubPeer record David Sinclair: well yes, Sinclair is on the advisory board of MetroBiotech. Sinclair previously made many millions with his NAD+ startup Sirtis (a financial disaster for the buyer GSK) and now runs with his former mentor Leonard Guarente the anti-aging company Elysium Health peddling NAD+ supplements.
Another MetroBiotech board member I recognise is Johan Auwerx from EPFL in Switzerland. Auwerx’s qualifications include more than two dozens of papers on PubPeer with what looks like falsified data. These men are now turning retired elderly soldiers into Rambos! Be afraid.
You may recall that Dr Juan Carlos Izpisua-Belmonte previously solved old age by rejuvenating mice with pluripotency genes. Why US Army didn’t go for his method, is a mystery to me. Izpisua-Belmonte also solved the problem of organ shortage by growing human organs in pigs and monkeys. There are not many malaises left he hasn’t solved yet. Most recently, type 1 diabetes.
Good News Network brings good news:
“Researchers at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, an avant-garde force in all forms biology, have pioneered a new way to produce beta-pancreas cells for this type-1 treatment—and now the only thing standing in the way of it becoming available in a hospital setting is safety trials in humans.
“Stem cells are an extremely promising approach for developing many cell therapies, including better treatments for type-1 diabetes,” Salk professor Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte, senior author of the corresponding paper, told the Salk press department.“
The breakthrough was published in Nature Communications:
Haisong Liu , Ronghui Li , Hsin-Kai Liao , Zheying Min , Chao Wang , Yang Yu , Lei Shi , Jiameng Dan , Alberto Hayek , Llanos Martinez Martinez , Estrella Nuñez Delicado , Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte Chemical combinations potentiate human pluripotent stem cell-derived 3D pancreatic progenitor clusters toward functional β cells Nature Communications (2021) doi: 10.1038/s41467-021-23525-x
Here is what the Salk geniuses did:
““In order for beta cell-based treatments to eventually become a viable option for patients, it’s important to make these cells easier to manufacture,” co-first author Haisong Liu, a former member of Dr. Belmonte’s lab, told Salk. “We need to find a way to optimize the process.”
And they did just that. Utilizing a 3-dimensional petri dish allowed the cells to interact and grow in an environment similar to how they would naturally, and within two weeks of being transplanted into diabetic mice, their blood sugars dropped to normal levels like those seen in non-diabetic mice.”
Hurray! Type 1 Diabetes is history now! Thank you Dr Izpisua-Belmonte and thank you, 3-dimensional petri dish!
Humans did evolve!
A recent paper about ancestral human DNA study needed some spin to make the news.
Nathan K. Schaefer, Beth Shapiro and Richard E. Green An ancestral recombination graph of human, Neanderthal, and Denisovan genomes Science Advances (2021) DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abc0776
So we are astounded to learn that scientists discovered, I can’t interpret this otherwise, that modern humans were not created by God at all, but actually evolved from other hominids, who in turn evolved from primate ancestors! Insider writes: “No more than 7% of the human genome is unique to Homo sapiens“. This is so striking given that the genetic difference between humans and chimps is less than 2%, but between Californian professors and Neanderthals it’s 7%, and these do make the key difference:
“The evolutionary family tree shows there are regions of our genome that make us uniquely human,” Richard Green, director of the paleogenomics lab at the University of California, Santa Cruz and co-author of the new study, told Insider. “Now we have a catalog of those, and it’s a surprisingly small fraction of the genome.”
And then of course the obligatory claim that Neanderthals and Denisovans were, again unlike Californian professors, just grunting antisocial cave monkeys:
“His group found these uniquely human regions of our genome were “incredibly enriched for genes that have to do with neural development,” Green said. While Neanderthals have similarly large, if not larger, heads than humans do, that cranium size tells us little about how well their brains work compared to ours.
“Now we know human-specific stuff has to do with brain function,” Green said. […] “It’s extremely tempting to speculate that one or more of these bursts had something to do with the incredibly social behavior humans have — mediated in large part by our expert control of speech and language””.
News in Brief
- The Atlantic presents Winners of Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2020, with beautiful shots of animals and nature. Will Elisabeth Bik (who previously spotted manipulations in natural photography) find duplicated image sections?
- Coffee is good for your heart! The authors of Zachary et al, Another Cup of Coffee Without an Arrhythmia, Please, JAMA Internal Medicine (2021) reassure in the press release: “The majority of people, even those with arrhythmias, should be able to enjoy their cup of coffee, and maybe there are some people for whom caffeine or coffee may actually help reduce their risk“. Oh good. One can always trust JAMA, another one of their journals just published and then retracted a paper claiming facemasks would suffocate German schoolchildren (Walach et al JAMA Pediatrics 2021).
- Suicide genes found! Cunning psychologists at the University of Utah determined that the “risk for suicide death is partially inheritable and tracks in families independent of the effects of a shared environment.” Why yes, it was published in Molecular Psychiatry (William et al 2021) and it is indeed just one gene, Neurexin-1: “A pair of newly discovered variants in a gene that plays a key role in the transmission of nerve signals in the brain could help explain why death by suicide is more prevalent in some families“. But wait! Other scientists at the same university found 5 other suicide genes (Di Blasi et al 2021), four too many to make it into Molecualr Psychiatry.
- A German dentist was sentenced in court for bribing a professor at the University of Tübingen to supervise her MD thesis. Thing is, professors are forbidden to charge money for such things. The court-imposed fine of €18k is incidentally half of what this dentist was asked to pay by the professor’s wife (€35.700). It only came out because the dentist reported the professor to the university herself, after she was denied a receipt. The article say the dissertation was cancelled, the professor was also sentenced, but to a lower fine, but doesn’t say if he is being investigated by his university for misconduct. (SWR, in German).
- Alina Chan wrote a critical review of the review by Holmes et al zenodo 2021 which dismissed all discussion of a lab leak origin of COVID-19 as unscientific. Chan concludes in her post on Medium: “Plausible lab origin scenarios were not addressed by Holmes et al., who focused on furin cleavage site insertions and unlikely experiments with wild-type mice. The available data and information remain consistent with both natural and lab origin hypotheses.“
- Statins, the cholesterol lowering drugs, seem to be pushed prophylactically on everyone above the age of 40. Now a clinical meta-analysis of hospital data in USA (Daniels et al PLOS One 2021) decreed “Patients taking statins prior to hospitalization for COVID-19 had substantially lower odds of death, primarily among individuals with a history of CVD and/or hypertension. These observations support the continuation and aggressive initiation of statin and anti-hypertensive therapies among patients at risk for COVID-19.” Since we all are at risk of the mutating coronavirus, even the young and even the vaccinated ones, you know what to do.
- As we all suspected, the chloroquine guru Didier Raoult and his IHU Marseille have been running clinical studies, including those on COVID-19 patients, without any ethics approvals, i.e., they faked them either by recycling old irrelevant approvals, or issuing the approvals themselves. Both is illegal, and punishable by huge fines and even prison terms. That was reported by L’Express. We learn that the National Agency for Medicines and Health Products Safety (ANSM) tried to do something and reported Raoult to the state prosecutor. Problem is, Raoult is so extremely well-connected politically (even France’s president Emmanuel Macron protects him) that the Marseille prosecutor simply refused to raise charges.