There is a special place in hell for certain kind of fraudulent research: vaccines, climate change, pesticides and GMOs, and then of course smoking. A gang of smoking “scientists” in Sicily gave with their Photoshop exploits the biggest gift possible to the Big Tobacco industry discrediting their own research area. No need for a bribe, because the Italian taxpayers paid it already.
Couldn’t they just smuggle cigarettes, the public health damage would have been much lower….
Our Sicilian heroes here are many, and are all affiliated with the Institute for Biomedical Research and Innovation of the Italian National Research Council (IRIB-CNR) and its seat at Palermo, Italy, but some names stick out. The main stars are be Mark Gjomarkaj, retired IRIB-CNR and the two worthy successors he trained.
Now, Gjomarkaj is not some mere mortal. He is the descendant of the Albanian noble and Catholic clan of Gjomarkaj (John Mark) who used to rule the area of Mirdizia until WWII. Quote from a relevant article, translated from Italian:
The last clan leader, Kapidan Gjon, fought the communists in 1944, lost and emigrated to Rome with his family. Our hero Dr Mark Gjomarkaj is very likely his direct descendant.
Gjomarkaj, a specialist in respiratory diseases, has 24 papers on PubPeer. All of them feature as significant co-authors the CNR Palermo senior researchers Mirella Profita (“H-Index 40“, 20 papers on PubPeer) or Elisabetta Pace (11 papers on PubPeer), who as group leaders went on to publish their own Photoshop trash on respiratory diseases. Much of the PubPeer material was posted by Aneurus Inconstans (here is their guest post on my site).
We may have never heard of any of them, but science is a village, where you meet old friends on every corner, sometimes on unexpected corners.
Remember the emeritus professor Jean Bousquet from Montpellier, France, who discovered sauerkraut as the therapy against the coronavirus? Who also cured himself and his family from COVID-19 with broccoli capsules, and published it as a clinical trial? Who, what coincidence, even speculated if smoking would protect against COVID-19?
Well, what a surprise to see Prof Bousquet as co-author on an utterly fake paper with our new friends from Sicily!
M. Profita, R. Di Giorgi, A. Sala, A. Bonanno, L. Riccobono , F. Mirabella , M. Gjomarkaj , G. Bonsignore , J. Bousquet , A. M. Vignola Muscarinic receptors, leukotriene B4 production and neutrophilic inflammation in COPD patients Allergy (2005) doi: 10.1111/j.1398-9995.2005.00892.x
Bet you didn’t expect this kind of wanton Photoshop mess, but it gets better. A figure in that 2005 study on smoking contains a little sputum cell which previously featured in very different figure in a paper from 2003 on asthma:
Mirella Profita, Angelo Sala, Anna Bonanno, Mark Gjomarkaj, Giovanni Bonsignore, Antonio M Vignola Increased prostaglandin E2 concentrations and cyclooxygenase-2 expression in asthmatic subjects with sputum eosinophilia Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (2003) doi: 10.1016/s0091-6749(03)01889-x
There is of course more in that Profita et al 2003 paper:
Years later, the smoking spit cells returned to ravish another paper, this time on chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD):
Andreina Bruno , Marinella Alessi, Simona Soresi, Anna Bonanno, Loredana Riccobono, Angela Marina Montalbano, Giusy Daniela Albano, Mark Gjomarkaj, Mirella Profita Increased leptin/leptin receptor pathway affects systemic and airway inflammation in COPD former smokers Journal of Inflammation Research (2011) doi: 10.2147/jir.s19523
I presume the aesthetic beauty of the hilariously fake Figure 2 from Profita et al 2005 paper compelled the authors to recycle those images again? In any case, they did it once again, some more years later, again on asthma:
Rosalia Gagliardo, Delphine Gras, Stefania La Grutta, Pascal Chanez , Caterina Di Sano, Giusy D. Albano, Isabelle Vachier , Angela M. Montalbano , Giulia Anzalone , Anna Bonanno, Loredana Riccobono , Mark Gjomarkaj , Mirella Profita Airway lipoxin A4/formyl peptide receptor 2–lipoxin receptor levels in pediatric patients with severe asthma Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (2016) doi: 10.1016/j.jaci.2015.11.045
Some data manipulations for the fake smoking research were just lazy.
Angela Marina Montalbano, Giulia Anzalone , Giusy Daniela Albano , Caterina Di Sano, Rosalia Gagliardo, Anna Bonanno, Loredana Riccobono , Gabriele Nicolini , Eleonora Ingrassia , Mark Gjomarkaj , Mirella Profita Beclomethasone dipropionate and formoterol reduce oxidative/nitrosative stress generated by cigarette smoke extracts and IL-17A in human bronchial epithelial cells European Journal of Pharmacology (2013) doi: 10.1016/j.ejphar.2013.08.001
There are more examples of inappropriately recycled blots in Profita’s and Gjomarkaj’s papers on PubPeer, but I can’t show them all or you will get bored and wonder about an inadvertent mistake of innocent oversight.
So let me show some other stuff which cannot really be explained with human errors (except of errors in character).
Again, on the health impact of smoking:
Elisabetta Pace, Maria Ferraro, Liboria Siena , Valeria Scafidi , Stefania Gerbino , Serena Di Vincenzo , Salvatore Gallina, Luigi Lanata , Mark Gjomarkaj Carbocysteine regulates innate immune responses and senescence processes in cigarette smoke stimulated bronchial epithelial cells Toxicology Letters (2013) doi: 10.1016/j.toxlet.2013.09.013
At that time, Pace was employed by the Italian pharma company Dompé, based in Milan. This “research” was also funded by Dompé and used to develop medical treatments, how reassuring. That same image was later reused in a different paper with Pace as first author, again sponsored by Dompè:
Elisabetta Pace , Maria Ferraro, Serena Di Vincenzo , Stefania Gerbino , Andreina Bruno, Luigi Lanata , Mark Gjomarkaj Oxidative stress and innate immunity responses in cigarette smoke stimulated nasal epithelial cells Toxicology in Vitro (2014) doi: 10.1016/j.tiv.2013.11.004
One year later, Pace became senior researcher at IRIB-CNR with her own lab studying smoking and other lung diseases, and she never mentioned her past affiliation with Dompé again:
C. D’Anna, D. Cigna , G. Costanzo , M. Ferraro, L. Siena , P. Vitulo , M. Gjomarkaj , E. Pace Cigarette smoke alters cell cycle and induces inflammation in lung fibroblasts Life Sciences (2015) doi: 10.1016/j.lfs.2015.01.017
These western blots don’t fake themselves. Strangely, in 2011, Pace was still at IRIB-CNR, so her later employment with the pharma industry must was brief. But she sure knew how to get industry funding: “EP has received research funds and budesonide from Italchimici.” In return, Italchimici got some flawed cytometry to prove the effect of budesonide on asthma (note Bousquet being on board again!):
Elisabetta Pace, Caterina Di Sano , Stefania La Grutta, Maria Ferraro, Giuseppe Albeggiani , Giuseppe Liotta , Serena Di Vincenzo , Carina Gabriela Uasuf, Jean Bousquet , Mark Gjomarkaj Multiple in vitro and in vivo regulatory effects of budesonide in CD4+ T lymphocyte subpopulations of allergic asthmatics PLoS ONE (2012) doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0048816
Those FACS plots are simply fake, measurement of the same sample was edited to stand in for different experiments. Also in 2011, Pace and Gjomarkaj deployed flawed cytometry to cure lung cancer:
Elisabetta Pace, Caterina Di Sano, Maria Ferraro, Annalisa Tipa , Dario Olivieri , Mario Spatafora , Roberta Santagata , Vincenzo Bellia , Mark Gjomarkaj Altered CD94/NKG2A and perforin expression reduce the cytotoxic activity in malignant pleural effusions European Journal of Cancer (2011) doi: 10.1016/j.ejca.2010.09.001
If the FACS plots were accidentally re-used, how come the quantifications numbers are different?
But let’s return to studying Profita’s papers, especially on cigarette smoke:
Giulia Anzalone , Giuseppe Arcoleo , Fabio Bucchieri , Angela M. Montalbano , Roberto Marchese , Giusy D. Albano , Caterina Di Sano , Monica Moscato , Rosalia Gagliardo , Fabio L. M. Ricciardolo , Mirella Profita Cigarette smoke affects the onco-suppressor DAB2IP expression in bronchial epithelial cells of COPD patients Scientific Reports (2019) doi: 10.1038/s41598-019-52179-5
Funny, how the image was darkened and differently cropped while inadvertently reused by a mistake of oversight, conclusions not affected. You laugh, but this is what the journal will write in the corrigendum, if there ever will be one.
A paper on COPD, funded by Boehringer Ingelheim Pharma:
Mirella Profita, Giusy Daniela Albano, Loredana Riccobono, Caterina Di Sano, Angela Marina Montalbano, Rosalia Gagliardo, Giulia Anzalone , Anna Bonanno , Michael Paul Pieper , Mark Gjomarkaj Increased levels of Th17 cells are associated with non-neuronal acetylcholine in COPD patients Immunobiology (2014) doi: 10.1016/j.imbio.2014.01.004
It’s an Elsevier journal, so most probably there won’t be even a correction unless the institute asks for it. Which is unlikely to happen: Profita, Pace, and the IRIB-CNR director Andrea De Gaetano refused all communication. The emeritus Gjomarkaj didn’t answer to my LinkedIn contact request. Let’s look at more fake FACS plots, at same Immunobiology by Elsevier:
Mirella Profita , Loredana Riccobono , Angela Marina Montalbano, Anna Bonanno, Maria Ferraro, Giusy Daniela Albano, Stefania Gerbino , Paola Casarosa , Michael Paul Pieper , Mark Gjomarkaj In vitro anticholinergic drugs affect CD8+ peripheral blood T-cells apoptosis in COPD Immunobiology (2012) doi: 10.1016/j.imbio.2011.07.013
Maybe you missed fake western blots already?
Giusy Daniela Albano , Anna Bonanno, Luca Cavalieri, Eleonora Ingrassia, Caterina Di Sano, Liboria Siena, Loredana Riccobono, Rosalia Gagliardo, Mirella Profita Effect of High, Medium, and Low Molecular Weight Hyaluronan on Inflammation and Oxidative Stress in an In Vitro Model of Human Nasal Epithelial Cells Mediators of Inflammation (2016) doi: 10.1155/2016/8727289
The paper was actually already corrected, for other data manipulations. The Corrigendum went:
“In the article titled “Effect of High, Medium, and Low Molecular Weight Hyaluronan on Inflammation and Oxidative Stress in an In Vitro Model of Human Nasal Epithelial Cells” , there was a duplication of bands and undeclared splicing in the Western Blots. After this was raised on PubPeer, the following concerns were confirmed: (i)Figure 1(a) β-actin lanes 1 and 2 appear to be the same as Figure 4 β-actin lanes 1 and 2. They represent the same conditions (untreated cells and rh-IL-17A), but the duplication was not declared. Figure 1(a) β-actin lanes 1-3 are also the same as Figure 2 β-actin lanes 1-3, though the latter has been compressed horizontally to about 70% of the width. The third lane is not the same experiment.(ii)Figure 1(a) pERK lanes 1 and 2 are the same as Figure 3(b) pERK lanes 1 and 2, and they appear to represent the same conditions.(iii)Figure 1(b) β-actin lanes 1 and 2 are the same as Figure 3(b) β-actin lanes 1 and 2. Figure 1(b) pIκBα lanes 1 and 2 are the same as Figure 3(b) pIκBα lanes 1 and 2. However, the ratios reported in the respective bar charts above the blots are quite different.(iv)Figure 2(b) β-actin lanes 1 and 2 are the same as Figure 4(b) lanes 1 and 2, though the latter has been compressed horizontally to about 70% of the width.
The authors apologized for the confusion and said this was due to inadvertent human error. They prepared a new set of figures, which have no duplication. A declaration of splicing between the bands is included in the legends of Figures 1(a) and 2(b).”
I wrote to Hindawi if they maybe should have retracted that paper already back then, but publishers don’t talk to me, no idea why.
Here something Elisabeth Bik found, in a Springer Nature journal:
Andreina Bruno, Stefania Gerbino , Maria Ferraro , Liboria Siena , Angela Bonura , Paolo Colombo , Stefania La Grutta , Salvatore Gallina , Antonella Ballacchino , Marco Giammanco , Mark Gjomarkaj , Elisabetta Pace Fluticasone furoate maintains epithelial homeostasis via leptin/leptin receptor pathway in nasal cells Molecular and Cellular Biochemistry (2014) doi: 10.1007/s11010-014-2142-z
Now, the same Andreina Bruno, faculty member at IRIB-CNR (“Total Impact Factor (2018-2019): 269,099“), whose name you may have noticed popping up in papers above, co-authored a certain problematic paper at the University of Bern in Switzerland, with her former postdoctoral mentor Hans-Uwe Simon. Who happens to be an ethics watchdog at the Cell Death and Depravity journal family at Springer Nature.
This was the paper:
Simon declared this duplication was OK.
Another Profita/Gjomarkaj paper, a study on asthma:
Mirella Profita, Angelo Sala, Anna Bonanno, Liboria Siena , Maria Ferraro , Rossana Di Giorgi , Angela M. Montalbano, Giusy D. Albano, Rosalia Gagliardo, Mark Gjomarkaj Cysteinyl leukotriene-1 receptor activation in a human bronchial epithelial cell line leads to signal transducer and activator of transcription 1-mediated eosinophil adhesion The Journal of pharmacology and experimental therapeutics (2008) doi: 10.1124/jpet.107.131649
Naturally, some of the fake data in that paper became fake data in a later publication on cigarette smoke, with largely same authors.
Mirella Profita, Angelo Sala, Anna Bonanno, Loredana Riccobono , Maria Ferraro , Stefania La Grutta, Giusy Daniela Albano, Angela Marina Montalbano, Mark Gjomarkaj Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and neutrophil infiltration: role of cigarette smoke and cyclooxygenase products American journal of physiology. Lung cellular and molecular physiology (2010) doi: 10.1152/ajplung.90593.2008
Naturally, there was more data fudgery in that “study”.
And once again, the fake data from Profita et al 2008 was reused in yet another fake later paper, this time again on asthma:
Rosalia Gagliardo, Pascal Chanez , Mirella Profita, Anna Bonanno, Giusy Daniela Albano, Angela Marina Montalbano, Flora Pompeo , Cesare Gagliardo , Anna Maria Merendino , Mark Gjomarkaj IκB kinase–driven nuclear factor-κB activation in patients with asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (2011) doi: 10.1016/j.jaci.2011.03.045
If you think those were some shady characters who conspired to produced bad science behind everyone’s back: no. This is the problem with the entire Palermo institute. For example:
Guido Sireci, Marco P. La Manna , Caterina Di Sano , Diana Di Liberto , Steven A. Porcelli , Mitch Kronenberg , Francesco Dieli , Alfredo Salerno Pivotal advance: alpha-galactosylceramide induces protection against lipopolysaccharide-induced shock Journal of Leukocyte Biology (2007) doi: 10.1189/jlb.0506298
This stuff rots on PubPeer since 2017 and nobody cares.
Our Albanian noble warrior Kapidan Gjomarkaj has retired. Also Andrea Salerno retired as University of Palermo professor, leaving behind another pile of steaming dung behind him – this paper was flagged already in 2016:
Francesco Dieli, Fabrizio Poccia , Martin Lipp , Guido Sireci , Nadia Caccamo , Caterina Di Sano , Alfredo Salerno Differentiation of effector/memory Vdelta2 T cells and migratory routes in lymph nodes or inflammatory sites The Journal of experimental medicine (2003) doi: 10.1084/jem.20030235
Another IRIB-CNR researcher in retirement is Andrea Vignola (correction: Vignola died in 2004, as editors were told), you may have seen his name on several papers by Profita, who is truly a worthy successor of all these naughty old men. Let’s end with one of Vignola’s papers, curing asthma. It has our friend and COVID-19 vanquisher Jean Bousquet on board, so we’ve come full circle.
Rosalia Gagliardo , Pascal Chanez , Marc Mathieu , Andreina Bruno , Giorgia Costanzo , Claire Gougat , Isabelle Vachier , Jean Bousquet, Giovanni Bonsignore , Antonio M. Vignola Persistent activation of nuclear factor-kappaB signaling pathway in severe uncontrolled asthma American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine (2003) doi: 10.1164/rccm.200205-479oc
Don’t expect a corrigendum, never mind a retraction, from this society journal.
The Italian National Research Council (CNR) and its president Maria Chiara Carrozza refused to admit my notification of suspected research misconduct in this case.
CNR now deigned to admit my notification against the Palermo fraud. Both ethics and grant office replied.
Some journals however refuse all action. Regarding La Grutta et al 2003 and Gagliardo et al 2003, Aneurus inconstans was instructed by the Editor-in-Chief of American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, Fernando J. Martinez, to write to a dead corresponding author:
“Your concern was discussed at length during our editorial meeting this morning [Nov. 12th – A.].[…]
The work that you refer to predated this process and, alas, the senior author tragically passed away in 2004 [I assume is Antonio Vignola – A.]. As such, we only have access to PDF versions of the original data.
Given the long time since publication it was felt ideal by the editors for you and your group to express your concerns directly to the institution and the corresponding author.”
Martinez is trolling here to cover up fraud, but what can you do. They all are like that at Weill Cornell.
Cinzia Caporale, Coordinator of the CNR Research Ethics and Integrity Committee, informed me:
- “we carried out an accurate technical analysis which showed that almost all of the allegations were well founded;
- we discussed the technical report with the researchers;
- the researchers contacted the Editors of the journals involved;
- according to the severity of the single case, they will proceed as appropriate with corrections/retractions
- at the end of these actions the CNR Research Ethics and Integrity Commission will express a final evaluation and send it to the President of the CNR.“
One paper, Bruno et al J Inflamm Res. 2011, was already retracted in December 2021, where the retraction notice mentions that “The authors did not respond to our queries and the Editor advised for the article to be retracted.”