Zombie scientist Sonia Melo awarded by AstraZeneca

Zombie scientist Sonia Melo awarded by AstraZeneca

Sonia Melo is back, and not to be messed with. The Portuguese zombie scientist is responsible for a number of papers with manipulated data (only one was retracted, Melo et al, Nature Genetics, 2009), saw her EMBO Young Investigator funding withdrawn in 2016, but was whitewashed and reinstalled by her employing institute Instituto de Investigação e Inovação em Saúde (I3S) in Porto. Her key publication in Nature with MD Anderson professor Raghu Kalluri, Melo et al, 2015, which raised obscene money in industrial and public investment for Kalluri’s spin-off Codyak Biosciences to market exosome-based liquid biopsy for pancreatic cancer detection, was disproven as an artefact at best, the authors even admitted in a follow-up preprint to have intentionally manipulated flow cytometry data to achieve results they needed. Collaborators were instructed never to work with her again. All in all, Melo is as toxic as a zombie scientist can be. But apparently not in her home country Portugal.

In March 2018, Melo received a Prémio FAZ Ciência award from Fundação AstraZeneca (FAZ) and Sociedade Portuguesa de Oncologia (Portuguese Society of Oncology, SPO). Which means, not just Portuguese academia, also international Big Pharma industry trusts her Photoshop skills. The award comes with €35k cash, and this is how much or how little was needed for the University of Porto to drop all pretence at research integrity and celebrate their zombie scientist as a genius researcher about to cure cancer. Continue reading “Zombie scientist Sonia Melo awarded by AstraZeneca”

Fried Divine Comedy, featuring anti-cancer cockroach and phallic fungus

Fried Divine Comedy, featuring anti-cancer cockroach and phallic fungus

This is a follow-up to the previous article, about a misconduct investigation at the Cardiff University in UK into the published works of cancer researcher Wen Jiang, professor of Surgery and Tumour Biology, Fellow of Royal Society of Medicine and chair of Cardiff China Medical Research Collaborative. The following guest post by my regular contributor Smut Clyde now delves deep into the peculiar approach with which Professor Jiang intends to cure cancer: namely by peddling herbal (and not so herbal) medicinal powders, manufactured by a Chinese company Yiling Pharmaceuticals. Jiang sees there no conflict of interest, even in presenting the patented concoctions of Yiling as his own research in Cardiff. It is not exactly the case that Jiang was hiding his connections to Yiling, outside of his conflict of interest declarations, that is. His own Cardiff University initiated the collaboration with the Chinese company in 2013 and proudly announced the engagement to the British Parliament in 2014. In 2015, Yiling helped Jiang and Cardiff University to organise The China–United Kingdom International Cancer Conference, attended by the First Minister of Wales and the Vice-Chancellor of the Cardiff University.

Jiang’s cancer-fighting magic ingredients are ginseng and other herbs, plus a cockroach, a parasitic fungus and bits of chicken gizzard, all sold by Yiling. Sometimes it includes Divine Comedy (don’t ask). Yiling’s potion named “Yangzheng Xiaoji” was certified by Cardiff University in an Impact statement as a metastasis inhibitor, which “has been shown to be beneficial to patients with certain solid tumours when used alone…“. The sole basis for this bold claim from respected British university was a 2009 paper by Yiling in an obscure Chinese journal, which incidentally is edited and published by Yiling.

Update: scroll down for relevant Cardiff University press release.

Continue reading “Fried Divine Comedy, featuring anti-cancer cockroach and phallic fungus”

Pfizer announces more retractions for sacked lab head Min-Jean Yin, whistleblower revealed

The pharma giant Pfizer announced to continue investigating the data manipulations committed by their former cancer researcher Min-Jean Yin, retractions of two more publications were requested and yet another paper’s fate is being currently decided. Again it is about studies of pharmacological inhibitors of cancer molecular pathways which Yin’s former lab at the Pfizer California research site has faked. These two retraction requests come is addition to 5 Yin retractions which Pfizer already announced on my site in October 2016 and which meanwhile happened. The PubPeer-listed evidence was first presented on my site in May 2016. Back then, the reader of my site, who posted that evidence of duplicated western blots on PubPeer and alerted me to it, preferred to remain unnamed. Now however, she agreed to be named: it was the microbiologist, image integrity specialist and host of the successful public outreach blog Microbiome Digest, Elisabeth Bik. She now forwarded to me this message: Continue reading “Pfizer announces more retractions for sacked lab head Min-Jean Yin, whistleblower revealed”

Chocolate health: advice by Thomas Lüscher and peer review by Jonas Malmstedt

Chocolate health: advice by Thomas Lüscher and peer review by Jonas Malmstedt

Christmas season is the time to eat lots of chocolate. And as science teaches us, your confectionery is actually the superfood which will make you healthy, slim and clever. Good for you, good for the chocolate industry which often generously sponsors such scientists.

In May 2016, I brought a story about chocolate health research and how it is funded by food industry giants Mars and Nestle. The main protagonist was Thomas Lüscher, cardiology professor at the University of Zürich and head of the heart centre at the University Hospital Zurich in Switzerland. Lüscher postulated that eating dark chocolate daily is beneficial for heart insufficiency patients and may prevent heart attacks, he now offers some additional advice. Now his peer, the Swedish vascular surgeon Jonas Malmstedt, provides his analysis of Lüscher’s publications below. Another study which Malmstedt unpicks, is an opus from the Luxembourg Institute of Health (Alkerwi et al, 2016), which declared that eating chocolate makes you younger and healthier, and prevents diabetes on top. Continue reading “Chocolate health: advice by Thomas Lüscher and peer review by Jonas Malmstedt”

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”

Chocolate is good for your funding

Chocolate is good for your funding

Chocolate is good for your health, scientists keep saying. This may sound counter-intuitive; given that chocolate is an extremely calorie-rich confectionery, which mostly contains industrially refined cocoa fat and huge quantities of added sugar, a substance finally about to be recognised as the prime cause for the obesity epidemics.

A recent clinical study from the Luxembourg Institute of Health, published in the British Journal of Nutrition (Alkerwi et al, 2016), discovered that “chocolate consumers (81·8 %) were more likely to be younger, physically active, affluent people with higher education levels and fewer chronic co-morbidities”. The authors used data from the nationwide Observation of Cardiovascular Risk Factors in Luxembourg (ORISCAV-LUX) survey to determine that “chocolate consumption may improve liver enzymes and protect against insulin resistance, a well-established risk factor for cardiometabolic disorders”. Basically, this paper advices hyperglycaemic and diabetic patients to eat sugar-rich confectionery, which may appear somewhat irresponsible or even dangerous. These alleged chocolate benefits on diabetes prevention present a new turn in a long history of bold claims about the medicinal magic inside the sweets wrapper. Moreover, the lead author Ala’a Alkerwi also determined that chocolate improves cognitive capacities (Crichton et al 2016).

A fresh editorial in the BMJ journal Heart simply asked: “Is life longer with a box of chocolates?”. The authors Donaldson et al present “the health benefits of eating chocolate” as a scientific fact, which only needs physiological and molecular elucidation. Clinical studies have allegedly proven that regular consumption of chocolate reduces risk of heart attack and heart failure. The authors, led by Phyo Kyaw Myint, Chair for Medicine of Old Age at University of Aberdeen, decree that “future studies will need to narrow down exactly how chocolate exerts its beneficial effects”.

There were however quite a lot of chocolate studies done for more than a decade, funded with millions from the public, but also from the chocolate industry. Reliable reports of people cured of any cardiovascular diseases by eating chocolate do not exist. Even the health benefits of the purportedly medicinal raw cocoa ingredients of the flavanol compound family are far from being conclusively proven. Continue reading “Chocolate is good for your funding”

Image integrity concerns in papers from a Pfizer lab

Image manipulations are unfortunately a rather widespread practice in biomedical literature, where a large part of research data in figures consists of microscopy or gel images. Some of the most commonly detected issues in this regard are image duplications. These can range from possible negligence like duplicated western blot images, to deliberate data fabrication, evidenced by duplications of select image fragments such as gel bands. Sometimes, it is difficult to believe in the accidental nature of duplications: I reported of a case where one single western blot put an appearance whole twelve times in several publications by the Brazilian diabetes researcher Mario Saad and his colleagues. Some of his papers have been retracted by now.

Elisabeth Bik is not only a competent microbiologist at Stanford University and public-outreach-blogger, she is also a human image fabrication detector. Even the most cleverly spliced band duplications are unlikely to be overlooked by Bik, who by now screened over 20,000 papers from 40 different journals for duplications and other image irregularities. For her project, Dutch-born microbiologist teamed up with colleagues and known research integrity activists Arturo Casadevall and Ferric Fang (who previously established misconduct as lead cause of retractions and demanded a reform of the Nobel Prize).  The trio presented the results of Bik’s analysis in a bioarxiv-preprint titled “The Prevalence of Inappropriate Image Duplication in Biomedical Research Publications”, where they calculated that

3.8% of published papers contained problematic figures, with at least half exhibiting features suggestive of deliberate manipulation”.

Continue reading “Image integrity concerns in papers from a Pfizer lab”