The septuagenarian psychology professor at University of Maryland in Batimore, US, Robert J Bloch, is a man with a short fuse. I tried to talk with him about his Greek problem, but he denied everything, got angry, and even refused to tell me if he was related to the late Robert Bloch, author of horror novels, most famously Psycho which served as template for Hitchhock’s classic film.
Bloch specialises on muscle physiology and receives lots of funding not just from NIH but also from muscular dystrophy charities. So let me show one such NIH and charity-sponsored study from Bloch’s lab, flagged on PubPeer by Cheshire aka Actinopolyspora biskrensis:
Aikaterini Kontrogianni‐Konstantopoulos, Dawn H. Catino , John C. Strong , Sarah Sutter , Andrei B. Borisov , David W. Pumplin, Mark W. Russell , Robert J. Bloch Obscurin modulates the assembly and organization of sarcomeres and the sarcoplasmic reticulum FASEB journal (2006) doi: 10.1096/fj.06-5761com
Bloch explained on PubPeer:
“Sarcomeres are highly repetitive structures, so very similar elements will appear over and over again as one looks at the morphology either in the light microscope or, as in this case, by electron microscope. This includes the thin and thick filaments and the membranous elements of the sarcoplasmic reticulum and transverse tubule system. The latter often appear as single “vesicles” (they aren’t, really, though they look like it in cross-section) or collections of “vesicles”.
If you look carefully, you’ll see that the elements that flank each of the boxes you colored similarly are in fact different, indicating that they represent different parts of the same overall structure.“
Aneurus inconstans retorted:
It sounds Shakespearean, but it is rather a Greek tragedy.
Enter another paper from Bloch’s lab with his Greek mentee, who progressed under his wings from postdoc to assistant professor and then into full professorship, Aikaterini Kontrogianni-Konstantopoulos. An absolute role model for all the women in STEM, so, ladies, watch closely and take notes because you want to learn the skills and talents to make career in science:
Ben Busby , Taiji Oashi , Chris D. Willis , Maegen A. Ackermann , Aikaterini Kontrogianni-Konstantopoulos, Alexander D. MacKerell , Robert J. Bloch Electrostatic interactions mediate binding of obscurin to small ankyrin 1: biochemical and molecular modeling studies Journal of Molecular Biology (2011) doi: 10.1016/j.jmb.2011.01.053
Such digital gel forgeries never happen by an honest mistake of oversight. But they do often happen with an intention to deceive. More by Prof Katia (I hope she forgives the informality, her name is way too long to type each time):
Maegen A. Ackermann, Li-Yen R. Hu , Amber L. Bowman , Robert J. Bloch, Aikaterini Kontrogianni-Konstantopoulos Obscurin interacts with a novel isoform of MyBP-C slow at the periphery of the sarcomeric M-band and regulates thick filament assembly Molecular Biology of the Cell (2009) doi: 10.1091/mbc.e08-12-1251
Bloch denied on PubPeer that there were any valid “concerns”. And here?
Aikaterini Kontrogianni-Konstantopoulos, Ellene M. Jones , Damian B. Van Rossum , Robert J. Bloch Obscurin is a ligand for small ankyrin 1 in skeletal muscle Molecular Biology of the Cell (2003) doi: 10.1091/mbc.e02-07-0411
This is a tricky one, and here Bloch blamed Maegen Ackermann Borzok, Katia’s former postdoc at University of Maryland who later used to be assistant professor at the Ohio State University:
Maegen A. Ackermann , Andrew P. Ziman , John Strong , Yinghua Zhang , April K. Hartford , Christopher W. Ward , William R. Randall , Aikaterini Kontrogianni-Konstantopoulos, Robert J. Bloch Integrity of the network sarcoplasmic reticulum in skeletal muscle requires small ankyrin 1 Journal of Cell Science (2011) doi: 10.1242/jcs.085159
Bloch explained on PubPeer (highlight mine):
“Thank you for this question. I inquired about this figure with the individual who produced it, Dr. Ackermann. She reminded me that the samples she was examining for these figures were triple labeled. Hence, the duplication of the two panels in these two figures was appropriate. There was, however, an error in labeling Fig. 5E: instead of “obscurin-N”, labeling should have been indicated as simply “obscurin”. This error was introduced inadvertently as the ms was being submitted and resubmitted. A note to JCS correcting this error will be sent shortly. R. Bloch“
But I think Bloch should learn some lab basics about antibody staining before sending to JCS his scientifically incompetent note. Because it can never have been a triple staining, according to the paper’s materials and methods:
“Primary antibodies included rabbit antibodies against sAnk1 (3 μg/ml) (Zhou et al., 1997), […] We also used mouse antibodies against […] DHPR (1:80; supernatant fraction, Developmental Studies Hybridoma Bank, Iowa City, IA), […] the two N-terminal Ig domains of obscurin (‘obscurinN’, 3 μg/ml)”
Meaning, if what Bloch and Ackermann say is true, they stained the same sample with two different mouse antibodies, for DHPR and ObscurinN. This would lead to both signals looking identical, because the fluorescently-labelled secondary antibodies against murine primary antibodies would never distinguish between the two, the DHPR and ObscurinN ones. The signals would look identical in both fluorescence channels, rendering the experiment to trash. But lo and behold, Ackermann managed to produce two very different images nevertheless. This, my dear Doctor Bloch, is impossible. But maybe what really happened was that the “moderate knock-down” didn’t perform as desired, hence the need to recycle the sAnk1 picture?
Gather round children, and hear a fairy tale from the golden age of degenerative medicine.
But I must admit, it wasn’t just Katia and her trainees. Here are two papers with another Bloch’s mentee, Joseph Roche, as first author, who made it to associate professor at Wayne State University.
Joseph A. Roche , Richard M. Lovering , Renuka Roche , Lisa W. Ru , Patrick W. Reed , Robert J. Bloch Extensive mononuclear infiltration and myogenesis characterize recovery of dysferlin-null skeletal muscle from contraction-induced injuries AJP Cell Physiology (2010) doi: 10.1152/ajpcell.00122.2009
Joseph A. Roche, Mohan E. Tulapurkar , Amber L. Mueller , Nico Van Rooijen , Jeffrey D. Hasday , Richard M. Lovering , Robert J. Bloch Myofiber damage precedes macrophage infiltration after in vivo injury in dysferlin-deficient A/J mouse skeletal muscle American Journal Of Pathology (2015) doi: 10.1016/j.ajpath.2015.02.020
You might notice that in each case the image is unlikely to have been accidentally duplicated, because the two versions have different brightness and are slightly shifted. This suggests an intent. Bloch did not reply on either case.
Another paper, without Katia or Roche, which suggests a general problem in Bloch’s lab management:
C. Antolik , D.H. Catino , W.G. Resneck , R.J. Bloch The tetratricopeptide repeat domains of rapsyn bind directly to cytoplasmic sequences of the muscle-specific kinase Neuroscience (2006) doi: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2006.03.035
Cool, Bloch is a fan of Taxi Driver.
But then again, Bloch is right. The editor of Elsevier’s journal Neuroscience, Spanish professor Juan Lerma, most definitely won’t see a problem here. He even issued an insane editorial note to defend fake gels by US mega-fraudsters of Cassava, read here at the end:
Trust Lerma to soon inform Bloch that also here, “After careful examination of these original material, Neuroscience found no evidence of manipulation of the Western blot data or other figures of this publication.”
If such practices are tolerated and defended in Bloch’s lab, it is not surprise Katia is his most successful mentee. Here another problematic paper by Katia and Maegen:
Maegen A. Borzok , Dawn H. Catino , James D. Nicholson , Aikaterini Kontrogianni-Konstantopoulos, Robert J. Bloch Mapping the binding site on small ankyrin 1 for obscurin Journal of Biological Chemistry (2007) doi: 10.1074/jbc.m704089200
This doesn’t look good at all. But not for Bloch, who chose to complain about the existence of PubPeer instead:
“This gel was run with all lanes assayed simultaneously. It is not unusual to have partial “smiles” appear in different lanes and they can often that assume very similar shapes. Manipulating the images by reversing them, turning them upside down, or even upside down and backwards, can be fun, but it doesn’t represent what we did to achieve this result.
Although I’ve responded to 3 of your queries on “pub-peer” in as open and honest way as I can, I am not familiar with the credentials of this website or the purposes for which it was established. I am not aware that it has been blessed by any of the professional societies or by the Office of Scientific Integrity at the NIH. I also confess to being uncomfortable with the anonymity with which you continue to pose your questions. I am always happy to discuss my earlier work with colleagues, even when their comments are negative, but I very much wish to know with whom I am communicating. May I suggest, as one colleague to another, that if you have any further questions about my papers, you contact me directly? My email is email@example.com. Bob Bloch“
But I wasn’t anonymous when I wrote to Bloch. I asked Bloch: “Do you have an explanation for the accusations against your publications?” and he replied:
I explained what I do, and that as a scientist with many decades of experience, who completed his PhD 5 years before I was even born, Bloch would certainly know those are neither natural recurring patterns nor technical accidents if he only looked closely at the PubPeer evidence.
“There are no data “irregularities” in my papers, Leonid, as much as you might wish otherwise
Our results are accurately and honestly reported and I welcome anyone interested enough to repeat them to do so. I will help them in any way I can. That is how Science is supposed to be done. Not by making obviously ridiculous suggestions about pairs of images that to any trained eye are clearly different.
I’d suggest you find other “experts” to work with—people who have both sharp eyes and some knowledge of the areas of science they choose to critique, which your friend whose name sounds a fungus does not — before you publish untrue statements on your blog about people like me and my collaborators. “
The last sentence sounds like a legal threat. Cool, bring it, Bob.
But then again, my academic credentials are abysmally bad, maybe this is why Prof Bloch talks to me like that.
His mentee Katia never replied to my emails. But here we can see that her lab continued with giant obscure shenanigans:
Li‐Yen R. Hu , Aikaterini Kontrogianni‐Konstantopoulos The kinase domains of obscurin interact with intercellular adhesion proteins FASEB journal (2013) doi: 10.1096/fj.12-221317
Again, some forged gels. Who may have done that, one wonders? The paper has two authors, and Katia’s PhD student LY Hu has no other papers on PubPeer. Ho-hum.
Some very reproducible patterns here also:
Solomon V. Yap , Elizabeth Vafiadaki , John Strong , Aikaterini Kontrogianni-Konstantopoulos HAX-1: a multifaceted antiapoptotic protein localizing in the mitochondria and the sarcoplasmic reticulum of striated muscle cells Journal of Molecular and Cellular Cardiology (2010) doi: 10.1016/j.yjmcc.2009.10.028
Cool, more fake sacromeres! And we reached the stage where we don’t complain about a Franken-Blot with 6 spliced gel lanes and thus no actual loading control, because there are even bigger problems: it also has one gel band digitally copy-pasted (arrow).
Oxford professor Dame Kay E Davies, DBE FRS FMedSci, edits the journal Human Molecular Genetics. If you are a scientist who likes Photoshop, but afraid to get caught, give Dame Kay a call!
Now, dear WomenInSTEM reading this and taking notes: here another cue for you how to emulate Katia’s super success in science. Attach yourself to a powerful man, professionally, but also personally. You met Bob, soon you will meet Katia’s husband, and here is something from Katia’s first postdoc period with the former President of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute at Harvard, Ed Benz. The research was done when Benz was still at Johns Hopkins University:
Aikaterini Kontrogianni-Konstantopoulos, Carole S. Frye , Edward J. Benz, Shu-Ching Huang The prototypical 4.1R-10-kDa domain and the 4.1g-10-kDa paralog mediate fodrin-actin complex formation Journal of Biological Chemistry (2001) doi: 10.1074/jbc.m010581200
Recognise the style? And do you recognise this style:
Aikaterini Kontrogianni-Konstantopoulos, Shu-Ching Huang , Edward J. Benz A nonerythroid isoform of protein 4.1R interacts with components of the contractile apparatus in skeletal myofibers Molecular Biology of the Cell (2000) doi: 10.1091/mbc.11.11.3805
I don’t think these two papers will ever be retracted because the emeritus President of Dana Farber cannot be associated with research misconduct. Prof Benz did not reply to my email.
Anyhow, you probably can’t wait to meet Katia’s husband, so here he is: Konstantinos Konstantopoulos, professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at Johns Hopkins University and “principal investigator of four R01 grants supported by NIH“, who informs us that
I shall call Katia’s husband Kostas for brevity, which is just as well because this Greek man who is about to cure cancer likes small things, what with his interest in nanotechnology. I wouldn’t be surprised if Katia’s mentor Benz personally installed her husband as professor at Johns Hopkins before moving to head Dana Farber. Kostas also did not reply to emails.
Now, who wants some cloned mice?
Christopher L. Yankaskas , Keyata N. Thompson , Colin D. Paul , Michele I. Vitolo , Panagiotis Mistriotis , Ankit Mahendra , Vivek K. Bajpai , Daniel J. Shea , Kristen M. Manto , Andreas C. Chai , Navin Varadarajan , Aikaterini Kontrogianni-Konstantopoulos , Stuart S. Martin , Konstantinos Konstantopoulos A microfluidic assay for the quantification of the metastatic propensity of breast cancer specimens Nature Biomedical Engineering (2019) doi: 10.1038/s41551-019-0400-9
This is unlikely to have happened by an accident. Kostas announced:
Oh come on Kostas, the elusive “collaborator” was your own PhD student Christopher Yankaskas, now scientist at Thermo Fisher Scientific, the pictures are in his thesis. You won#t be surprised to know that Kostas has a PubPeer record of his own and by far not all papers feature his wife as co-author. Here is one:
Pu Wang , Fei Zhu , ZiQiu Tong , Konstantinos Konstantopoulos Response of chondrocytes to shear stress: antagonistic effects of the binding partners Toll‐like receptor 4 and caveolin‐1 FASEB journal (2011) doi: 10.1096/fj.11-184861
I’m not sure either how this happened, but here Kostas did not comment. Neither did he comment on the PLOS One paper:
Pu Wang , Fei Zhu , Konstantinos Konstantopoulos Interleukin-6 synthesis in human chondrocytes is regulated via the antagonistic actions of prostaglandin (PG)E2 and 15-deoxy-Δ(12,14)-PGJ2 PLoS ONE (2011) doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0027630
Kostas, a very busy and important man, also did not comment on this PLOS One paper:
Pu Wang , Fei Zhu , Konstantinos Konstantopoulos Prostaglandin E2induces interleukin-6 expression in human chondrocytes via cAMP/protein kinase A- and phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase-dependent NF-κB activation AJP Cell Physiology (2010) doi: 10.1152/ajpcell.00508.2009
Someone must have conspired against Kostas!
Pu Wang , Fei Zhu , Konstantinos Konstantopoulos The antagonistic actions of endogenous interleukin-1β and 15-deoxy-Δ12,14-prostaglandin J2 regulate the temporal synthesis of matrix metalloproteinase-9 in sheared chondrocytes Journal of Biological Chemistry (2012) doi: 10.1074/jbc.m112.362731
Help! What is going on here?!
Pu Wang , Fei Zhu , Norman H. Lee , Konstantinos Konstantopoulos Shear-induced interleukin-6 synthesis in chondrocytes: roles of E prostanoid (EP) 2 and EP3 in cAMP/protein kinase A- and PI3-K/Akt-dependent NF-kappaB activation Journal of Biological Chemistry (2010) doi: 10.1074/jbc.m110.110320
Just look at this, too fake even for Oncotarget‘s standards, flagged on PubPeer already in 2018:
Pei-Pei Guan , Xin Yu , Jian-Jun Guo , Yue Wang , Tao Wang , Jia-Yi Li , Konstantinos Konstantopoulos, Zhan-You Wang , Pu Wang By activating matrix metalloproteinase-7, shear stress promotes chondrosarcoma cell motility, invasion and lung colonization Oncotarget (2015) doi: 10.18632/oncotarget.3274
Stop this, please, someone!
Xin Yu , Pei‐Pei Guan , Jing‐Wen Guo , Yue Wang , Long‐Long Cao , Guo‐Biao Xu , Konstantinos Konstantopoulos, Zhan‐You Wang, Pu Wang By suppressing the expression of anterior pharynx‐defective‐1α and ‐1β and inhibiting the aggregation of β‐amyloid protein, magnesium ions inhibit the cognitive decline of amyloid precursor protein/presenilin 1 transgenic mice FASEB journal (2015) doi: 10.1096/fj.15-275578
These Chinese trainees did it behind Kostas’ back for sure!!! Pu Wang and Fei Zhu used to be two postdocs in Kostas’ lab, the former is allegedly since 2012 assistant professor at Northeastern University, China, and the latter seems to left Kosta’s lab in 2013 but seems to remain at Johns Hopkins. For sure these two did their best to make their PI happy. And Kostas will probably only be happy if he gets papers which he can convert into research grants for his lab and JHU, and into money for himself. Which Wang and Zhu delivered, their tricks exposed now.
Gosh, poor Kostas, betrayed by Chinese postdocs… But look, no Asian names here:
James P. Abulencia , Renee Gaspard , Zachary R. Healy , William A. Gaarde , John Quackenbush , Konstantinos Konstantopoulos Shear-induced cyclooxygenase-2 via a JNK2/c-Jun-dependent pathway regulates prostaglandin receptor expression in chondrocytic cells Journal of Biological Chemistry (2003) doi: 10.1074/jbc.m301378200
Kostas, despite his promise, did not comment there. Next case, a paper with just two authors, whom to blame for these forgeries? Clue: Bryan Grabias has no other threads on PubPeer, try again.
Bryan M. Grabias , Konstantinos Konstantopoulos Epithelial‐mesenchymal transition and fibrosis are mutually exclusive reponses in shear‐activated proximal tubular epithelial cells FASEB journal (2012) doi: 10.1096/fj.12-207324
There is more on PubPeer, 16 Kostas papers in total presently. Let me show you one more, the fun aspect here is Kosta’s unlucky co-author:
Matthew R. Dallas , Guosheng Liu , Wei‐Chiang Chen , Susan N. Thomas , Denis Wirtz , David L. Huso , Konstantinos Konstantopoulos Divergent roles of CD44 and carcinoembryonic antigen in colon cancer metastasis FASEB journal (2012) doi: 10.1096/fj.12-203786
Denis Wirtz is namely Johns Hopkins University’s Vice Provost for Research, thus responsible for research integrity, and he is already unlucky enough to be on several forged papers from the JHU lab of the Nobel Prize laureate, Gregg Semenza. The affair which Wirtz is still
covering-up burying investigating. Now I had to write to Wirtz all over again and report to him the shenanigans in the papers of his other JHU co-author, Kostas.
“Even after people have been telling you for, you know, 20 years or more that it’s going to happen, no one expects it.” -Gregg Semenza, Nobel Prize winner 2019
But we forgot about Katia! How rude of me. Look, Katia, winner of Outstanding Mentor award in 2018, discovered a giant obscurin on her gel:
Marey Shriver , Saravanakumar Marimuthu , Colin Paul , Janelle Geist , Tessa Seale , Konstantinos Konstantopoulos , Aikaterini Kontrogianni-Konstantopoulos Giant obscurins regulate the PI3K cascade in breast epithelial cells via direct binding to the PI3K/p85 regulatory subunit Oncotarget (2016) doi: 10.18632/oncotarget.9985
Yes, someone obscurely spliced on a gel lane, and that gel lane is very fake, look, someone deleted bands there by cloning bits of background. Prof Katia explained on PubPeer:
I can tell you what this likely means. Quite possibly some whistleblower, likely a member of Katia’s who was for some reason unhappy with her outstanding mentorship, reported suspected research misconduct in Katia’s papers. University of Maryland did an in-depth fact-finding investigation of 1) who stands behind Katia (Bloch, Dana Farber President Benz and don’t forget Katia’s nano-heavyweight husband Kostas), and 2) how much cash Katia draws in research funding (2 R01 grants). The university then told the whistleblower to go to hell, closed the case and declared full and unconditional support for whatever methods Katia deploys to procure even more funding cash.
Let me remind you that the University of Maryland hosts Robert Gallo, ever since he was kicked out at NIH and became one of the most famous but never officially convicted research fraudsters in USA 2-3 decades ago.
A review of “The Baltimore Case” by the historian Daniel Kelves and “Science Fictions” by the journalist John Crewdson, which also tell the history of the Office of Research Integrity (ORI).
I imagine Katia’s whistleblower being a foreigner, sacked on the spot, escorted from the lab by security, and swiftly deported to their home country after their visa was revoked, with phone calls following wherever they try to apply for a job to make sure they never get employed again. Do you think it’s just my sick fantasy, or it may really have happened? Katia and Kostas remained silent when I asked them. And Bloch warned me about criticising his work.
As the final lesson on How to Succeed as WomanInSTEM, let me show you how Katia taught Maegen to do science. This paper was never flagged on PubPeer before it was corrected:
Maegen A. Ackermann, Puja D. Patel , Jane Valenti , Yasuharu Takagi , Earl Homsher , James R. Sellers , Aikaterini Kontrogianni-Konstantopoulos Loss of actomyosin regulation in distal arthrogryposis myopathy due to mutant myosin binding protein‐C slow FASEB journal (2013) doi: 10.1096/fj.13-228882
The Erratum, which poor persecuted Katia had to issue in 2018 obviously because of that nasty whistleblower, is funny. The authors admitted some “alternative splicing” which they labelled with black dashed lines, and declared that
What FASEB J editors pretended not to see, was that virtually every single gel lane in those western blots was “alternatively spliced”. Look for yourself, no need to enhance contrast even:
These are the special rules, or rather special exemptions, under which important scientists like Katia do science. Thanks to her husband Kostas, her PhD mentor the Dana Farber President Benz, and her Maryland patron Bloch.
I hope I motivated you to go back to your lab bench pipetting. Below is a job for you to apply, no need to thank me, my pleasure!
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