Academic Publishing University Affairs

Imperial Piss-Take

"Having reviewed the Conflict of Interest disclosures made by Professor Frost, Professor Holmes and Dr Garcia-Perez, and having also reviewed additional information concerning their company, Melico, [...] the College is satisfied that they have no undisclosed or unmanageable conflicts of interests" - Arts Bachelor (Honours)

Once upon a time there were two lovely professors called Gary Frost and Elaine Holmes. They lived at the Imperial College in London and had an academic “offspring” named Isabel Garcia-Perez, and a cute little company named Melico which they prayed would make them piss-rich. What the happy little Imperial family utterly lacked was a conflict of interests, but they liked it this way, and all their fluffy cuddly friends at Imperial College and at journal editorial offices liked it this way, too.

But then a bad evil foreign witch arrived to spoil the fairy tale.

A paper was published in January 2017:

Isabel Garcia-Perez , Joram M Posma , Rachel Gibson , Edward S Chambers , Tue H Hansen , Henrik Vestergaard , Torben Hansen , Manfred Beckmann , Oluf Pedersen , Paul Elliott , Jeremiah Stamler , Jeremy K Nicholson , John Draper , John C Mathers , Elaine Holmes, Gary Frost Objective assessment of dietary patterns by use of metabolic phenotyping: a randomised, controlled, crossover trial The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology (2017) doi: 10.1016/s2213-8587(16)30419-3 

This is what the study determined:

“Urinary metabolite models developed in a highly controlled environment can classify groups of free-living people into consumers of diets associated with lower or higher non-communicable disease risk on the basis of multivariate metabolite patterns. This approach enables objective monitoring of dietary patterns in population settings and enhances the validity of dietary reporting.”

No conflicts of interests (COI) were mentioned, and a naive reader would think the kind Imperial scholars did this urine analyses for nutritional advice altruistically, to benefit the humanity while asking nothing in return. The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology paper was published on January 12 of 2017, and just one week later, on 19 January 2017, the scientific trio Frost, Holmes and Garcia-Perez founded the company Melico (which stands for “Metabolic Life Coach”). The company officially resides in a shabby two-story building in Durham, sharing office space with 20 more mailbox businesses.

Operation manager Rebecca Ann Alam is Elaine Holmes’ daughter. Kirsty Frost, the”Dietitian & Chef”, is the daughter of Gary Frost. Source: YouTube(Melico

What exactly does this little metabolic life coaching company sell, you might wonder? Well, you can watch this promotional video by Melico, where Drs Frost, Holmes, Perez-Garcia and other authors of the Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology paper offer to analyse your pee to advice you on your diet, in exchange for money.

In 2020, the analytic device manufacturer named Bruker (whose technology Melico apparently uses) placed a promo “interview” with the Imperial trio. The “Thought Leaders” explained how it works:

“Participants were asked to collect urine samples at the beginning and the end of each of the diet. We analyze the urine samples using nuclear magnetic resonance, and it takes five minutes to generate a metabolic profile or metabolic fingerprint. The metabolic profile can detect thousands of chemical compounds. The spectra contains many different peaks, and some of them are related to the intake of specific foods. For example, if a person consumes grapes, you will see tartaric acid in the urine. If they consume a piece of red meat, you will see O-acetylcarnitine.

We collected all of the urine samples from the participants after following each of the diets. We then took all of the metabolic profiles and put them in our model using PCA (principle component analysis).”

Imperial affiliations were listed, but no mention of Melico of course.

Yet several of that paper’s authors are executives of Melico: Imperial College’s senior lecturer Isabel Garcia-Perez is CEO, Imperial’s professors Gary Frost and Elaine Holmes are directors and co-founders, Imperial’s senior lecturer Joram Posma is “Data Scientist”, Imperial’s emeritus professor (currently pro vice chancellor of Health Sciences at Murdoch University in Australia) Jeremy Nicholson is “Scientific Advisor”. Holmes and Frost happen to hold their second professorship affiliations at Murdoch, where they run a “Centre for Computational & Systems Medicine” together with Nicholson.

Power couple: Holmes and Nicholson. Image: ANPC Murdoch University

And I don’t know if this is relevant or not, but Holmes and Nicholson are a couple for many years, they found each other in the classical professor-PhD student romance situation. So it is a bit of a family business.

According to Wikipedia, Nicholson is also “founder director, chief scientist and chief scientist officer at Metabometrix, an Imperial College London spin-off company specializing in molecular phenotyping, clinical diagnostics and toxicological screening via metabonomics and metabolomics“. Holmes happens to be “Project Staff” and Director there, even though the 22 year old undead company never even managed to create a promised website. It may have simply transferred its business to Melico.

Source: https://elaine-holmes-8rps.squarespace.com/the-melico-team

Does this all sound like a conflict of interests? To you maybe. But not to the journal editors and publishers, who eagerly published more papers by the Imperial Melico team.

Joram M. Posma , Isabel Garcia-Perez , James C. Heaton , Paula Burdisso , John C. Mathers , John Draper , Matt Lewis , John C. Lindon , Gary Frost , Elaine Holmes , Jeremy K. Nicholson Integrated Analytical and Statistical Two-Dimensional Spectroscopy Strategy for Metabolite Identification: Application to Dietary Biomarkers Analytical Chemistry (2017) doi: 10.1021/acs.analchem.6b03324 

Co-author and Imperial’s professor John Lindon is another Director at Metabometrix Ltd and listed by Holmes as Melico’s team member on her advertising website. That paper was about urine metabolite data analysis from participants of an Imperial clinical trial (ISRCTN-43087333) receiving dietary advice, and yet:

The authors declare no competing financial interest.”

Joram M. Posma , Isabel Garcia-Perez , Timothy M. D. Ebbels , John C. Lindon , Jeremiah Stamler , Paul Elliott , Elaine Holmes , Jeremy K. Nicholson Optimized Phenotypic Biomarker Discovery and Confounder Elimination via Covariate-Adjusted Projection to Latent Structures from Metabolic Spectroscopy Data Journal of Proteome Research (2018) doi: 10.1021/acs.jproteome.7b00879

Urine metabolite analysis to predict cardiovascular risks:

The authors declare no competing financial interest.

A. J. Lloyd , N. D. Willis , T. Wilson , H. Zubair , E. Chambers , I. Garcia-Perez , L. Xie , K. Tailliart , M. Beckmann , J. C. Mathers , J. Draper Addressing the pitfalls when designing intervention studies to discover and validate biomarkers of habitual dietary intake Metabolomics (2019) doi: 10.1007/s11306-019-1532-3 

a dietary exposure biomarker discovery and validation strategy based on a food intervention study involving free-living individuals preparing meals and collecting urine samples at home” –

The authors have no conflicts of interest to declare.”

Amanda J. Lloyd , Naomi D. Willis , Thomas Wilson , Hassan Zubair , Long Xie , Edward Chambers , Isabel Garcia‐Perez , Kathleen Tailliart , Manfred Beckmann , John C. Mathers , John Draper Developing a Food Exposure and Urine Sampling Strategy for Dietary Exposure Biomarker Validation in Free‐Living Individuals Molecular Nutrition & Food Research (2019) doi: 10.1002/mnfr.201900062 

To assist biomarker validation, this work aims to develop a food intervention strategy mimicking a typical annual diet over a short period of time and assesses urine sampling protocols” –

The authors declare no conflict of interest.

Thomas Wilson , Isabel Garcia-Perez , Joram M Posma , Amanda J Lloyd , Edward S Chambers , Kathleen Tailliart , Hassan Zubair , Manfred Beckmann , John C Mathers , Elaine Holmes , Gary Frost , John Draper Spot and Cumulative Urine Samples Are Suitable Replacements for 24-Hour Urine Collections for Objective Measures of Dietary Exposure in Adults Using Metabolite Biomarkers Journal of Nutrition (2019) doi: 10.1093/jn/nxz138

The aim of this study was to determine the utility of spot and cumulative urine samples for classifying the metabolic profiles of people according to dietary intake“-

TW, IG-P, JMP, AJL, ESC, KT, HZ, MB, JCM, EH, GF, and JD, no conflicts of interest.

Manfred Beckmann , Thomas Wilson , Hassan Zubair , Amanda J. Lloyd , Laura Lyons , Helen Phillips , Kathleen Tailliart , Nicholas Gregory , Rhys Thatcher , Isabel Garcia‐Perez , Gary Frost , John M. Mathers , John Draper A Standardized Strategy for Simultaneous Quantification of Urine Metabolites to Validate Development of a Biomarker Panel Allowing Comprehensive Assessment of Dietary Exposure Molecular Nutrition & Food Research (2020) doi: 10.1002/mnfr.202000517

Design concepts for an analytical strategy are demonstrated, allowing simultaneous quantification of a comprehensive panel of chemically-diverse biomarkers of a wide range of commonly-consumed foods.” –

The authors declare no conflict of interest.”

Isabel Garcia-Perez , Joram M. Posma , Edward S. Chambers , John C. Mathers , John Draper , Manfred Beckmann , Jeremy K. Nicholson , Elaine Holmes , Gary Frost Dietary metabotype modelling predicts individual responses to dietary interventions Nature Food (2020) doi: 10.1038/s43016-020-0092-z 

a method for applying a pipeline for understanding interindividual differences in response to diet, based on coupling data from highly controlled dietary studies with deep metabolic phenotyping.”-

J.D. has worked on the Cook to Health project (of which Groupe SEB is a collaborator and partly funded by EIT-Health) and the FACET project (of which Abbott, Spain, is a collaborator and partly funded by EIT-Health), both outside the submitted work. G.F. is lead for the Imperial Nestlé Collaboration and reports personal fees from Unilever, both outside the submitted work. All other authors declare no competing interests.

Not a word about Melico.

Basically, with their hidden Melico COI these Imperial scientists were taking the proverbial piss out of everyone, pun intended.

So I wrote to the Imperial College and the journals.

Editor-in-Chief of The Journal of Nutrition, the Baylor College of Medicine professor Teresa Davis, sent me an official letter even:

The investigation apparently ended with a decision to cease all communication with Schneider, because my follow-up email to Davis went unanswered.

The Chief Editor of Nature Food, Anne Mullen, eventually wrote me this:

Nature Food, and the Nature Research Portfolio, takes the declaration of Competing Interests very seriously. Our position on Competing Interests is available for authors and readers, and we have recently published an editorial laying out that view for the readership of the journal.

It is a condition of publishing that authors must provide a Competing Interests Statement. The final responsibility for the acknowledgment and statement of competing interests lies with the authors and their institutions.”

I asked her if this means that although Springer Nature requires the COI form to be filled out, they explicitly don’t care if what authors and institutions put in is true or not. I received back what I take as confirmatory silence. Sometimes even I am taken aback by the publishers’ duplicitousness of fraud-abetting and virtue-signalling. But here we are, here is your scholarly publishing in action, here is your famous “added value”. You paid for it, enjoy.

Original image: Melico/YouTube

Editors like Nature Food‘s Mullen base their expert assessments on the decree from the Imperial College. I got this from the Imperial Research Integrity Officer, a Mr Jon B Hancock BA (Hons), who sternly instructed me in November 2021:

Having reviewed the Conflict of Interest disclosures made by Professor Frost, Professor Holmes and Dr Garcia-Perez, and having also reviewed additional information concerning their company, Melico, I am writing to confirm that the College is satisfied that they have no undisclosed or unmanageable conflicts of interests, and have not breached the College’s policies in this regard.

In reality, Frost, Holmes and the rest were told to report their Melico business in all their future publications, even in those which are not about metabolite analysis in urine. How do I know this? From this new paper, published in September 2022:

Jerusa Brignardello , Sofia Fountana , Joram Matthias Posma , Edward S Chambers , Jeremy K Nicholson , Julien Wist , Gary Frost , Isabel Garcia-Perez , Elaine Holmes Characterization of diet-dependent temporal changes in circulating short-chain fatty acid concentrations: A randomized crossover dietary trial American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2022) doi: 10.1093/ajcn/nqab211

The authors report no conflicts of interest.

but also:

GF, EH and IGP are directors of Melico Ltd also outside the scope of the submitted work.

But what about the older papers then, which directly dealt with Melico’s business model? Shouldn’t these be corrected to reveal the conflicts of interests? According to Imperial: nope.

When I pointed out to Hancock that in view of this admission by authors his previous message to me was wrong and inappropriate, he stood his ground:

As I informed you last year, the College reviewed the Conflict of Interest disclosures made by Professor Frost, Professor Holmes and Dr Garcia-Perez when you previously raised this issue.  The College was satisfied that they had no undisclosed or unmanageable conflicts of interests at the time, and had not breached the College’s CoI policies. 

Their decision to include a declaration regarding Melico on a newly published paper (even though the declaration clearly acknowledges this as being outside the scope of the published work) does not change that decision.

Now, this is not the first time I had to deal with the Research Integrity Officer Hancock, a middle aged Englishman without any scientific background but strangely obsessed with that “honours” distinction he obtained as Arts undergraduate decades ago. In January 2019, I reported to him the case of former Imperial College professor and cancer research fraudster Eric Lam. Hancock announced an investigation, while warning:

…the College’s procedures set out that all investigations are to be treated as confidential unless and until there is a proven finding of research misconduct in order to protect researchers from ill-founded, frivolous or malicious complaints. Consequently, the College will not enter into further correspondence on the progress of a confidential investigation.

Indeed, there was no future correspondence with me. In 2021, Imperial College ran to Retraction Watch to exclusively announce the misconduct findings and the sacking of Lam. Childish, but this is Hancock BA (Hons) and his Imperial for you.

Eric Lam: shady research at Imperial to cure breast cancer

Eric Lam is yet another of the many “Curing Cancer with Photoshop” researchers which PubPeer is full of. This professor of molecular Oncology at Imperial College in London is responsible for several papers with duplicated gel bands, but does it matter? He has 250 more.

Officially, Lam was sacked for just one bad paper, as Hancock informed Clare Francis in June 2021:

The College investigation considered a number of allegations relating to several papers by Dr Lam, including those made on the Pubpeer website which you have mentioned.   The investigation only found clear evidence of research misconduct by Professor Lam in relation to the paper published by Cell Death and Disease, which has now been retracted.  The investigation did not recommend the retraction of any other papers.

The retracted Lam paper Intuyod et al 2018 had 15 authors, all with non-English names, most of them Asians. And yet: other badly fake Lam papers on PubPeer which escaped retraction listed white English coauthors, including other Imperial faculty members like Professor Charles Coombes. Coincidence?

Also the fine Englishman Justin Stebbing remains professor at Imperial despite not just pedestrian research fraud, but massive defrauding and abuse of terminally ill cancer patients which was determined by a medical tribunal and dragged through national newspapers.

Clare Francis also reported to Hancock other Imperial College professors, like Ian Adcock (over 20 papers on PubPeer) and his collaborator Kian Fan Chung (11 papers on PubPeer). They were investigated starting in 2018 based on Clare Francis’ notification. Just like with Lam, one punitive retraction for a recent paper was issued, but then everyone continued as before.

Mark M. Perry, Bernadett Tildy , Alberto Papi , Paolo Casolari , Gaetano Caramori , Karen Limbert Rempel , Andrew J. Halayko , Ian Adcock , Kian Fan Chung The anti-proliferative and anti-inflammatory response of COPD airway smooth muscle cells to hydrogen sulfide Respiratory Research (2018) doi: 10.1186/s12931-018-0788-x

Adcock swiftly blamed his Asian coauthor Chung on PubPeer, in August 2021 the paper was retracted with the notice:

“An investigation by Imperial College into the integrity of these images was unable to reach a conclusion as it was established that the raw data and images from this study are not available for examination; it was therefore recommended that the article be retracted.”

Thing is, Imperial has a loophole which allows them to disregard anonymously made complaints and to drop investigations of all papers older than 1 year, as Hancock announced to Clare Francis in Adcock’s case:

“As you may know, the College reserves the right “not to investigate an allegation that is submitted more than a year after the complainant became aware of the substantive incident(s) to which it relates, unless there are good reasons for the delay in reporting the incident“.  Similarly, in reviewing allegations submitted to it, the College may choose not to investigate allegations which are made anonymously if it is not satisfied with the seriousness of the allegations or their credibility.”

Source: https://elaine-holmes-8rps.squarespace.com/your-route

As it happens, Frost and Holmes are white and English. And I reported problems with their omitted COI in November 2021, for papers published in 2017-2020. A year or more have passed since publication, you see. No case to answer.

By the way, in 2015 Holmes was awarded by the Royal Society of Chemistry for the technology she now markets with Melico:

“Professor Elaine Holmes was honoured with the RSC’s Interdisciplinary Award for 2015 in recognition of her pioneering work at Imperial College London.

Prof Holmes specialises in the area of metabolic phenotyping, which involves taking a person’s blood, urine and tissue samples for testing. […]

Prof Holmes said of her award: “It has been a privilege to work in such an exciting and clinically relevant field of study. I feel very lucky to have a job that I love doing.

“The RSC award is indeed an honour and the recognition of the potential of metabolic phenotyping as a valuable field of research in its own right highlights the value in the partnership between chemistry and medicine.” […]

No fewer than 47 previous winners of RSC awards have gone on to claim the Nobel Prize.”

There you go. Imperial is probably expecting Holmes, Nicholson and Frost to get the Nobel Prize for their nutritional piss-taking.


One-Time
Monthly

I thank all my donors for supporting my journalism. You can be one of them!
Make a one-time donation:

I thank all my donors for supporting my journalism. You can be one of them!
Make a monthly donation:

Choose an amount

€5.00
€10.00
€20.00
€5.00
€10.00
€20.00

Or enter a custom amount


Your contribution is appreciated.

Your contribution is appreciated.

DonateDonate monthly

4 comments on “Imperial Piss-Take

  1. Anonymous (to avoid the litigious mindset of some)

    This wouldn’t be the first time Murdoch University management have got cosy with doubtful characters. Witness the 2019 scandal re international student recruitment practices.

    Like

  2. You have done Imperial a great service.

    By pointing out its sharp business practices, and its turning a blind eye to problematic data
    (which might get in the way on money-making),
    you have made Imperial even more attractive to investors.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: