The vexatious life-saving question of cadaveric tracheas

The vexatious life-saving question of cadaveric tracheas

s we learned it from the Swedish documentary „Experimenten“, the scandal trachea surgeon Paolo Macchiarini didn’t much like to operate on sick cancer patients: they died too quickly after receiving a trachea transplant. This is why Macchiarini was said to have moved on to patients outside of any life-threatening conditions, like the Russian car accident victim Yulia Tuulik. She died because of the plastic trachea which Macchiarini implanted into her. Yesim Cetir, young victim of a botched operation, was slightly luckier to survive the plastic trachea, but only because it was removed and because of constant emergency care and multiple organ transplants (she is presently in very grave state). However, it seems that even Macchiarini’s cancer patients could have led a relatively long life, had they not agreed to receive his trachea transplants. And I am not speaking about the lethal plastic ones. In fact, the “biological” grafts made of decellurised dead donor tracheas were not such a great success either, and seem to have brought suffering and have shortened lives instead of prolonging them. The British UCL and its hospital UCLH are preparing their own clinical trial with cadaveric tracheas, while busily covering up their role in the Macchiarini scandal.

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Post-publication peer review of a multimillion-dollar-heavy Nature paper, by Ana Pedro

Post-publication peer review of a multimillion-dollar-heavy Nature paper, by Ana Pedro

The Portuguese cancer researcher Sonia Melo has now achieved the status of a zombie scientist. After an internal investigation which records are kept secret, she was cleared of all suspicions of scientific misconduct and re-installed as group leader at the Instituto de Investigação e Inovação em Saúde (I3S) in Porto (see my report here). This despite an impressive PubPeer record of data integrity concerns, and despite the fact that the European research society EMBO revoked Melo’s Installation Grant funding after having determined problems with her publications. EMBO nevertheless stick to their decision, but Melo’s Portuguese funders like Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia (FCT) apparently see absolutely no need to reconsider their support, certainly not after the I3S whitewashing. Melo previously had to retract a paper (Melo et al, Nature Genetics, 2009) for data manipulations, her other works were however found not problematic by the I3S commission. In two papers in Cancer Cell (Melo et al 2010 and Melo et al 2014), the alleged duplications were apparently proven not to be duplications. As I learned, this was probably because while the top part of the gel images indeed did look suspiciously similar, the lower parts were clearly different. A possibility of digital image splicing was not considered, as it seems. In any case, even if the top bands are indeed the same, it doesn’t really matter. Cell editorial offices made on several occasions perfectly clear that data integrity is not one of their top concerns.

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From Melo et al, Cancer Cell, 2014. Cannot be a duplication, according to I3S. Source: PubPeer

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Mass investigation of 9 senior scientists at Karolinska Institutet

Mass investigation of 9 senior scientists at Karolinska Institutet

The scandal-shaken Swedish Karolinska Institutet (KI) invited nine of their research group leaders and professors to explain themselves about data integrity concerns raised in regard to their publications. They have time until November 24th 2016 to address of the suspicions of image duplications which were posted on PubPeer by anonymous watchdogs and subsequently reported to Karolinska by a whistleblower. This was the email the 9 scientists received on November 10th from Lisen Samuelsson of KI’s legal department:

“Karolinska Institutet (KI) has been notified about inaccuracies in one or more scientific articles according to comments on the website PubPeer. You are named as the main author of the article (s) in question.

KI therefore requests that you provide a statement regarding whether the alleged inaccuracies are correct or not. If there are inaccuracies in the article (s), KI requests that you specify whether they have been corrected, or if they will be corrected, and if so, how. Please submit your statement to KI at registrator@ki.se regarding this matter by November 24, 2016”.

dear-scientist

The email was complemented by a list of these scientists’ respective PubPeer-flagged publications. Most of these 9 addressees are very senior KI researchers, like Ulla Stenius and Boris Zhivotovsky. Here is the list, with some background information:

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Sonia Melo fully exonerated and reinstalled as PI by her Portuguese employer I3S

The Portuguese cancer researcher Sonia Melo has been cleared of all suspicions of scientific misconduct by her employer Instituto de Investigação e Inovação em Saúde (I3S) in Porto. She is now re-installed as research group leader, despite of an earlier EMBO investigation which stripped Melo of her start-up funding and the title of EMBO Young Investigator. Previously, PubPeer users raised strong suspicions of data manipulations as well as concerns about irreproducibility and artefactual results based on questionable reagents. The affected publications were authored by Sonia Melo during her stays in the laboratories of Manel Esteller in the Spanish city Barcelona (see my report here) and Raghu Kalluri at MD Anderson in Texas, USA.

Neither of her former supervisors has been investigated by his respective host institution in connection to PubPeer-posted concerns about their publications with or without Melo. Aside of the EMBO investigation (the findings of which were only made available to Melo’s former and current employers), I3S was the only institution to initiate their own investigation. Unfortunately, its report is not available to the public either. All we now receive is a press release, in which I3S admits to the existence of data manipulations (interpreted as cases of “negligence” which “do not compromise the scientific content”) in 3 of Melo’s papers: the now retracted Melo et al, Nature Genetics, 2009, plus Melo et al, PNAS 2011 and Melo et al, Nature 2015. Both papers will be corrected; the latter was seminal in the fundraising of at least $80 Million for the purpose of developing a commercial cancer diagnostics test. No further Melo publications were investigated, including this one: Continue reading “Sonia Melo fully exonerated and reinstalled as PI by her Portuguese employer I3S”

5 retractions and a sack for Pfizer lead cancer researcher Min-Jean Yin

Five months ago, I reported about data integrity concerns in 6 publications authored by Min-Jean Yin, who had been working at the pharma giant Pfizer in La Jolla, California, as Senior Principal Scientist since 2003. One paper, where she contributed as a collaborator (Lamoureux et al, European Urology, 2014), has been corrected already in March 2016. Five other cancer research papers, on the efficiency of Pfizer’s own pharmacological enzyme inhibitors, will now be retracted, after an investigation performed by Pfizer confirmed the suspicions of data manipulation, originally raised on PubPeer. These five papers stemmed directly from the Pfizer lab which Yin used to be in charge of. Used to be – because according to her recently updated LinkedIn profile, Yin doesn’t work there anymore. Since September 2016, she joined a rather unremarkable Californian biotech start-up Diagnologix LLC in San Diego, as “General Manager”. With such a career (and surely also salary) setback, it is safe to assume Yin did not leave Pfizer after 13 years of service entirely voluntarily. Continue reading “5 retractions and a sack for Pfizer lead cancer researcher Min-Jean Yin”

Manel Esteller, the Schrödinger cat of Barcelona

Manel Esteller, the Schrödinger cat of Barcelona
This text was first published on September 30th as Spanish translation on Hipertextual.

The Spanish Institut d’Investigació Biomèdica de Bellvitge (IDIBELL) in Barcelona has discovered a new application of the famous Schrödinger uncertainty theory, by extending quantum mechanics from single atoms to entire scientific publications and its authors. The traditional Schrödinger cat inside a box with a poison-releasing radioactivity detector can be simultaneously dead and alive, and you never know which until you open the box. According to IDIBELL, a senior scientific research group leader can be also simultaneously 100% responsible and utterly not responsible for any given scientific publication of his, depending on the nature of observation. Such a “Schrödinger cat”-scientist is Manel Esteller, cancer researcher and director of strategic projects at IDIBELL. On the one side Esteller is being hailed and awarded with highest prizes for his publications on cancer genetics (most recently the Gold Medal of Honour by the Catalan Parliament), from the other side he is being declared as entirely not responsible for these same research papers, as soon as any evidence for data manipulations in them surfaces. Esteller’s quantum state of responsibility for his own research oscillates between yes and no depending on whether you open his IDIBELL box in order to give him a prize or to report suspected research misconduct.

This is how the Barcelona Theory of Quantum Irresponsibility developed.

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Maria Fousteri, the ERC-funded western blot cheater

Maria Fousteri, the ERC-funded western blot cheater

Maria Fousteri is a highly successful Greek molecular cell biologist who studies the molecular mechanisms of DNA damage repair in human cells and their protective roles “against mental dysfunction or cancer”. Her works in the field of nucleotide exchange repair and epigenetic chromatin remodelling, done at the Leiden University Medical Center (LUMC) in the Netherlands in the department led by the LUMC professor Leon Mullenders, appeared in elite journals such as Molecular Cell.  These publications, described to me by a leading DNA repair researcher as “definitely major papers in the field” consequently helped Fousteri to an ERC starting grant of €1.5 Million for her research project “TransArrest” in 2012. Her young ERC-funded lab is located at the Biomedical Sciences Research Center “Alexander Fleming”in Greece, 20 km south of Athens.

The economic crisis-struck Greek science community should surely be rejoicing about such success of their returning top-scientist, with the most prestigious EU funding award from the ERC in tow. Instead, Fousteri’s colleagues at Alexander Fleming recently learned that a LUMC investigation found her guilty of data manipulations and research misconduct in 5 publications. Once again, it is about western blots. Images were re-used in unrelated context, lanes spliced and occasionally even bands duplicated inside a continuous gel image. The DNA nucleotide exchange repair specialist Fousteri seems to be just as professional in exchanging of western blot bands. These are the five papers, the first four (all in Molecular Cell) were recommended for retraction: Continue reading “Maria Fousteri, the ERC-funded western blot cheater”