Cheshire aka Actinopolyspora Biskrensis has been very busy, screening the 2018 issues of the Nature family journal Cell Death and Disease. Around 80 problematic papers have been found so far, mostly from China, many likely faked by paper mills. But the editors have been unresponsive because maybe they are part of the problem.
Instead, let’s have a look at the men (yes, they are all men) who run this strange journal, Cell Death and Depravity, which sports an impact factor of around 8.5 and where research fraudsters pay a whopping fee of €3,290 or $4,170 to publish their fraud.
Guido, Gerry and Gigi
In 2010, a new Nature Publishing Group journal was announced by its three foundling editors, with an editorial:
Guido Kroemer, Pierluigi Nicotera, & Gerry Melino. Cell Death and Disease: a new journal for a central area of pathophysiology. Cell Death Disease (2010). doi: 10.1038/cddis.2009.14
It started with “If pathophysiology were a fan propeller, cell death would constitute the pivot“, which was your clue about the intellectual challenge to publish in that for-profit Open-Access trash bin (which meant to complement these same editors’ subscription journal Cell Death and Differentiation). And indeed, Cell Death and Disease turned out to be a disease which ended up full of Chinese paper mill garbage and its editors not only not caring, but boasting gigantic PubPeer records themselves.
You sure have recognised one of these founding editors. Yes, Guido Kroemer, the legendary German-born Paris-based cancer and ageing researcher, member of the German science academy Leopoldina, who never retracted a single publication despite a PubPeer record of, let me check… over 70 papers, wow. I discussed some of those in my earlier articles, e.g. here and here.
Here I will show you just two, one in Cell Death and Differentiation even:
(You will meet Kromer’s co-author Mauro Piacentini later).
There is a theory that Kroemer is the actual centre of the data fudging universe, and anyone seen together with him, including his own wife Laurence Zitvogel, is, how shall I put it… better is not to be left with science alone unattended. For example, three of Kroemer’s best friends are:
- Carlos Lopez-Otin: Kroemer hosted Lopez-Otin in Paris as trouble was afoot in Spain. Lopez-Otin is still editorial board member of Cell Death and Disease.
- Didier Raoult: joint chloroquine paper, Kroemer’s wife Zitvogel is director of IHU Marseille scientific advisory board and thus responsible for Raoult remaining its director.
- Josef Penninger: they even got their Leopoldina membership together. Penninger was until recently editorial board member of Cell Death and Disease.
Kroemer used to be the Editor-in-Chief, but now acts as Deputy Editor of Cell Death and Disease.
Gennaro “Gerry” Melino is professor in Rome at University Tor Vergata, and Editor-in-Chief of both Cell Death and Disease and the “mothership” Cell Death and Differentiation. He also used to be programme leader at MRC in Cambridge, but apparently not anymore. This foundling editor of Cell Death and Depravity has around 50 papers on PubPeer. Which is weird, because Melino also plays the champion of research ethics, and occasionally investigates and retracts papers in this journal.
Here one such Melino paper, in Cell Death and Differentiation, as the journal’s Editor-in-Chief it was Melino’s task to do nothing at all about it:
M Müller, T Schilling , A E Sayan , A Kairat , K Lorenz , H Schulze-Bergkamen , M Oren , A Koch , A Tannapfel , W Stremmel , G Melino, P H Krammer TAp73/Delta Np73 influences apoptotic response, chemosensitivity and prognosis in hepatocellular carcinoma Cell Death and Differentiation (2005) doi: 10.1038/sj.cdd.4401774
Those are copy-pasted western blot bands. But you might say, well that was an old paper, sins of youth, things surely changed! Not really:
Francesco Rugolo, Nicolas G. Bazan , Jorgelina Calandria , Bokkyoo Jun , Giuseppe Raschellà, Gerry Melino, Massimiliano Agostini The expression of ELOVL4, repressed by MYCN, defines neuroblastoma patients with good outcome Oncogene (2021) doi: 10.1038/s41388-021-01959-3
In 2021, such cack-handed data manipulation is insulting and nothing but trolling. Melino didn’t reply to my email about this paper, in fact he ceased communicating with me altogether. Sure, he has much better friends.
Not just Kroemer! The Italian cancer researcher always had the best collaborators. Meet Richard Knight, previously at University of Leicester, but now like Melino a professor at University Tor Vergata. Also like Kroemer, Knight acts as Deputy Editor of Cell Death and Disease. In the previous years, Knight worked closely with David Latchman, the reckless Master of Birkbeck (UCL) and his condemned data forger Anastasis Stephanou (who fled to Cyprus).
Now, Stephanou is an old collaborator of Melino’s, in late 2016, when Stephanou was already exposed as a fraud by a UCL investigation, he hosted Melino at a conference in Cyprus, the meeting report was published in Cell Death & Disease. These days, Stephanou acts as a member of editorial board at Cell Death and Discovery, which is basically there to pick up trash rejected even at Cell Death & Disease (You must forgive Cheshire for having no time to clean that Aegean stable of a journal also).
In this regard, as short detour, a nicely fraudulent Stephanou paper in Cell Death and Depravity:
Andreas Yiallouris, Ioannis Patrikios, Elizabeth O. Johnson , Evangelia Sereti , Konstantinos Dimas , Cristian De Ford , Natalia U. Fedosova , Wolfgang F. Graier, Kleitos Sokratous , Kyriakos Kyriakou , Anastasis Stephanou Annonacin promotes selective cancer cell death via NKA-dependent and SERCA-dependent pathways Cell Death and Disease (2018) doi: 10.1038/s41419-018-0772-x
In 2018, the Dean of Medical faculty of Stephanou’s European University Cyprus and co-author of the above fraudulent paper, Elizabeth Johnson, educated Clare Francis that it was actually the UCL investigators of the Latchman-Stephanou affair who are the lying fraudsters:
” Ms. Francis, Thank you for your email. It is of critical importance to both protect scientific integrity and uphold the standards of scientific method. However, we were sent a clipping from a newspaper with a reputation of lightweight gossip. I have unfortunately seen cases of unfounded accusations thrown by newspapers in the past, particularly during my work at the National Institutes if Health. The only aim, in each of these cases was to slander and to weaken the image and reputation of an individual or Department . Despite the fact that these accusations were proven to be unfounded, the goal of besmirching a reputation was achieved, at least in part and briefly. As such, I will only take into consideration information that comes to me through formal channels.“
But now a paper by Melino, Stephanou, Latchman and Knight, plus another guy from Tor Vergata, Vincenzo De Laurenzi:
Eliana Munarriz , Daniela Barcaroli , Anastasis Stephanou , Paul A. Townsend, Carine Maisse , Alessandro Terrinoni , Michael H. Neale , Seamus J. Martin , David S. Latchman, Richard A. Knight , Gerry Melino, Vincenzo De Laurenzi PIAS-1 Is a Checkpoint Regulator Which Affects Exit from G 1 and G 2 by Sumoylation of p73 Molecular and Cellular Biology (2004) doi: 10.1128/mcb.24.24.10593-10610.2004
Someone (I am not pointing fingers here) must have been drunk on ouzo or grappa while forging those western blots in Photoshop. Look, the bands are not even horizontal.
Knight earned himself 6 retractions with his mate Stephanou, which must have sufficed as qualifications to become a Tor Vergata professor in Rome. So here another paper with the Cell Death and Depravity editors Melino and Knight:
Mario Rossi , Satoshi Inoue , Renata Walewska , Richard A. Knight, Martin J.S. Dyer , Gerald M. Cohen , Gerry Melino Caspase cleavage of Itch in chronic lymphocytic leukemia cells Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications (2009) doi: 10.1016/j.bbrc.2008.11.154
Guess at which university does the former Leicester academic Gerald Cohen hold a professorship now? Come on, it’s easy. Yes, Melino’s Tor Vergata in Rome. These days, two of Cohen’s former postdocs, one of them the Tokyo professor Satoshi Inoue from above paper, serve on Cell Death and Disease editorial board.
Here another one from these Roman gentlemen:
A E Sayan , B S Sayan , V Gogvadze , D Dinsdale , U Nyman , T M Hansen , B Zhivotovsky, G M Cohen , R A Knight , G Melino P73 and caspase-cleaved p73 fragments localize to mitochondria and augment TRAIL-induced apoptosis Oncogene (2008) doi: 10.1038/onc.2008.64
That paper with its “accidentally” copy-pasted gel features as co-author Boris Zhivotovsky, professor at Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm and another deputy editor at Cell Death and Disease. Zhivotovsky’s papers are also quite problematic, there are around 20 of them on PubPeer, but Karolinska was helpless to find anything so far, despite several investigations.
One clue for Zhivotovsky’s whitewashings might be the fact that his wife Tatiana Goriatcheva is the manager of the Nobel Prize Committee at Karolinska Institutet. And if you are interested, I wrote about the rigged research of Zhivotovsky and his PhD mentee Helin Vakifahmetoglu-Norberg before:
So you see, there is a pattern of editorial appointments at Cell Death and Depravity.
Let’s look at more of Melino’s papers.
Alessandro Terrinoni , Marco Ranalli , Bruno Cadot , Aida Leta , Giacinto Bagetta , Karen H Vousden , Gerry Melino p73-alpha is capable of inducing scotin and ER stress Oncogene (2004) doi: 10.1038/sj.onc.1207342
What you saw there, was a cut-off indicating that the last gel lane was most probably just a blank white patch, and the gel image’s background noise had to be brightened as well to hide this manipulation. You may have recognised the co-author: Karen Vousden, Chief Scientist at Cancer Research UK and professor at The Crick in London, with over 20 papers on PubPeer. Vousden is also member of the editorial board of Cell Death and Differentiation.
More Melino stuff, some fake gels made in Italy:
Eleonora Candi , Sergio Oddi , Alessandro Terrinoni , Andrea Paradisi , Marco Ranalli , Alessandro Finazzi-Agró , Gerry Melino Transglutaminase 5 cross-links loricrin, involucrin, and small proline-rich proteins in vitro The Journal of biological chemistry (2001) doi: 10.1074/jbc.m010157200
Another one with Melino’s colleague at University Tor Vergata, Eleonora Candi, nothing special there, just another fake gel with a band digitally inserted in Photoshop.
Valentina Pietroni , Sabrina Di Giorgi , Andrea Paradisi , Bijan Ahvazi , Eleonora Candi , Gerry Melino Inactive and highly active, proteolytically processed transglutaminase-5 in epithelial cells The Journal of investigative dermatology (2008)doi: 10.1038/jid.2008.146
The paper was even corrected – for omitting a grant acknowledgement.
Here something by Melino and the other co-founder of Cell Death and Depravity, Pierluigi Nicotera, director of the German Centre for Neurodegenerative Diseases (DZNE) in Bonn, and like Kroemer, also Leopoldina member.
Eliana Munarriz , Daniele Bano , A. Emre Sayan , Mario Rossi , Gerry Melino , Pierluigi Nicotera Calpain cleavage regulates the protein stability of p73 Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications (2005)
Or here is a good one, a letter to the editor of Blood, which sought to refute a study by the Cell Death and Disease editorial board member George Calin (over 30 papers on PubPeer and associate of Anil Sood (!) and even of Carlo Croce (!), but then again, also Melino collaborated with Croce, see PubPeer for evidence). That letter contained exactly one figure showing 2 western blot experiments. Which proved to have been fake, so it was replaced with a new experiment in an Erratum.
Pia Rivetti Rivetti Di Val Cervo , Paola Tucci , Aneela Majid , M. A. Lena , Massimiliano Agostini , Sergio Bernardini , Eleonora Candi , Gerry Cohen , Pierluigi Nicotera , Martin J. S. Dyer , Gerry Melino p73, miR106b, miR34a, and Itch in chronic lymphocytic leukemia Blood (2009) doi: 10.1182/blood-2009-02-203174
Nicotera has 10 papers on PubPeer, often without Melino as co-author. For example, this vintage paper (featuring Zhivotovsky!) in the journal Nicotera and Melino founded:
Anna D Rossi, Barbara Viviani , Boris Zhivotovsky , Luigi Manzo , Sten Orrenius , Marie Vahter , Pierluigi Nicotera Inorganic mercury modifies Ca2+ signals, triggers apoptosis and potentiates NMDA toxicity in cerebellar granule neurons Cell Death and Differentiation (1997) doi: 10.1038/sj.cdd.4400244
Back then, gel lanes were copy-pasted not with Photoshop, but with the good old hands-on method with paper, scissors and glue. They don’t make forgeries like these anymore!
Btw, also the co-author Sten Orrenius used to be editorial board member, but he died in 2020 aged 83.
The co-author of this other vintage classic, Rolf Knippers, died also, in 2017. German students of biology all know his textbook. Which makes it even more embarrassing that this fake gel is rotting on PubPeer since 5 years without anyone being bothered:
Birgit L. Schwab , Marcel Leist , Rolf Knippers , Pierluigi Nicotera Selective proteolysis of the nuclear replication factor MCM3 in apoptosis Experimental Cell Research (1998) doi: 10.1006/excr.1997.3850
I informed Nicotera and the Helmholtz Society which funds his DZNE institute. No reply so far.
10 Years Later
This is becoming a kind of Alexandre Dumas’ “10 Years Later” sequel, with our three musketeers of Cell Death and Depravity retiring, and three new ones arriving on the stage.
Mauro Piacentini, Yufang Shi & Hans-Uwe Simon 10 years of Cell Death & Disease Cell Death & Disease (2020) doi: 10.1038/s41419-020-03287-y
“Cell Death & Disease is celebrating its 10th anniversary. In the last 10 years from its foundation the content of Cell Death & Disease has covered an enormous breadth of subjects at the forefront of experimental medicine and clinical practice. The Journal’s mission aims to encompass the breadth of translational implications of cell death in the pathogenesis of major human diseases.”
Aha, that where the Chinese papermills come in! I understand.
But we are talking about Cell Death and Disease editorial triumvirates here (literal triumvirates, no women allowed).
The new Editor-in-Chief of Cell Death and Disease Mauro Piacentini is, like Melino, also professor at the University Tor Vergata in Rome. Of course also he has a PubPeer record of almost 20 papers, due to wise choices of collaboration, especially with Kroemer. You saw two examples above, remember?
H Vakifahmetoglu-Norberg , E Norberg , A B Perdomo , M Olsson , F Ciccosanti , S Orrenius , G M Fimia , M Piacentini , B Zhivotovsky Caspase-2 promotes cytoskeleton protein degradation during apoptotic cell death Cell Death and Disease (2013) doi: 10.1038/cddis.2013.463
Right, Karolinska said this is OK, nothing wrong, I forgot. Well, here is a nice one from Tor Vergata, Piacentini is corresponding author:
B Fazi , S Melino , S De Rubeis , C Bagni , M Paci , M Piacentini , F Di Sano Acetylation of RTN-1C regulates the induction of ER stress by the inhibition of HDAC activity in neuroectodermal tumors Oncogene (2009) doi: 10.1038/onc.2009.233
It’s the same gel band, cloned four times, don’t you like it? Here more cloned gel bands from Piacentini’s lab:
Too old? Here a rather new one even, does the raw data still exist perchance? Meh, why do I ask.
Laura Diaz-Hidalgo , Sara Altuntas , Federica Rossin , Manuela D’Eletto , Claudia Marsella , Maria Grazia Farrace , Laura Falasca , Manuela Antonioli , Gian Maria Fimia , Mauro Piacentini Transglutaminase type 2-dependent selective recruitment of proteins into exosomes under stressful cellular conditions Biochimica et Biophysica Acta (2016) – doi: 10.1016/j.bbamcr.2016.05.005
Enter Hans-Uwe Simon, professor at the University of Bern, owner of a nicely growing PubPeer record, and yet another member of Leopoldina (what kind of a club is this actually?). Simon has around around 10 papers on PubPeer, most problems were flagged very recently.
Simon was unconvinced there was something to worry about:
“It is possible that we used the same GAPDH image at this time because the donor was the same for both 5-h and 24-h experiments.“
Sure, sure. Here, a strange figure in the same journal:
Dagmar Simon, Susanne Hoesli , Nina Roth , Simon Staedler , Shida Yousefi , Hans-Uwe Simon Eosinophil extracellular DNA traps in skin diseases Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (2011) doi: 10.1016/j.jaci.2010.11.002
Why the duplication (highlighted with boxes)?
The first author is a certain Dagmar Simon, who is also professor at the University of Bern, and published many papers with Hans-Uwe, so probably no relation whatsoever?
Barbara Geering , Ursina Gurzeler , Elena Federzoni , Thomas Kaufmann , Hans-Uwe Simon A novel TNFR1-triggered apoptosis pathway mediated by class IA PI3Ks in neutrophils Blood (2011) doi: 10.1182/blood-2010-11-322206
I guess also there, the donor was the same, hence reuse justified? Which donor is to blame for this:
Sébastien Conus , Remo Perozzo , Thomas Reinheckel , Christoph Peters , Leonardo Scapozza , Shida Yousefi , Hans-Uwe Simon Caspase-8 is activated by cathepsin D initiating neutrophil apoptosis during the resolution of inflammation The Journal of experimental medicine (2008) doi: 10.1084/jem.20072152
No wonder Professor Simon stopped replying on PubPeer. He also never replied to my email. I guess he is just too busy. How about these two duplications:
Now I have a special joke for you. Simon is in charge of the research ethics at Cell Death and Disease, being on its Ethics Committee which covers all three family journals. Which kind of fits, don’t you think? Just imagine the fun Simon has investigating Cheshire’s complaints.
The third new Editor-in-Chief of Cell Death and Depravity, Yufang Shi, is former professor at Shanghai Institutes for Biological Sciences, Chinese Academy of Sciences. In 2019, not entirely unexpected, he also became Tor Vergata professor in Rome. Yet Shi doesn’t really have a proper PubPeer record which I think might be a problem. Nobody likes an outsider. Instead of keeping shtum like the others, Shi even replied to Cheshire:
Did I mention that even the undead Count Fakula Michael Karin is editorial board member of Cell Death & Disease? I mean, this surely sends a message!
Oh, and the Editor-in-Chief of Cell Death and Discovery (basically a cheaper version of Cell Death & Disease, where you pay merely €1,790/ $2,090 to publish your trash), is Xin Lu, director of the Ludwig Cancer Institute in Oxford. I wrote about her research before. It really seems Kroemer and Melino recruit their editors on PubPeer.
Cheshire wrote in an email to the editors:
“I got to thinking that maybe there’s a business opportunity for us here, but you’ll have to help me out with the details:
Would you prefer to pay me a $50 “bug bounty” per paper for finding possible image errors or fraud in CDD papers, or would you prefer to pay me to stop finding them?“
They still don’t answer.
This article has been updated with more fake science since it was first published.