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 The Portuguese zombie scientist is responsible for a number of papers with manipulated data (only one was retracted, Melo et al, Nature Genetics, 2009), saw her EMBO Young Investigator funding withdrawn in 2016, but was whitewashed and reinstalled by her employing institute Instituto de Investigação e Inovação em Saúde (I3S) in Porto.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 Ciênciaaward 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”→
Sonia Melo, the Portuguese cheater scientist and her former US-boss Raghu Kalluri issued some days ago a biorxive preprint, which sole purpose is to defend their discredited Nature paper from 2015. There, they originally claimed to have found a unique biomarker for early pancreatic cancer, a much hailed promise to save lives of many cancer patients. However, soon it was found out that the results were not reproducible, the Nature paper Melo et al, 2015 contained evidence of data manipulation (just like other Melo publications with Kalluri and her PhD boss Manel Esteller). The antibody, on which the central evidence for the allegedly unique pancreatic cancer biomarker glypican 1 (GPC1) was based, proved to be delivering staining artefacts; the vendor Thermo Scientific soon discontinued it. Even Kalluri seemingly distanced himself from his results.
Now in their new preprint, Melo and Kalluri claimed to have perfectly reproduced their original 2015 GPC1 results with a new antibody, which however proved to be likely exactly the same as the old one, but sold by a different vendor. As soon as this became known, the authors issued a new preprint version just two days later, featuring yet another entirely new GPC1 antibody, with an utterly new set of results to complement the 6 day older ones. However, also these results are most likely useless. The authors namely freely admit in their preprint method description to have intentionally manipulated their flow cytometry (FACS) data to obtain a positive signal specifically where needed. It seems that one full professor and three research group leaders have absolutely no understanding about data integrity in flow cytometry (or maybe even in research in general). Obviously, they simply adjust the FACS settings for each sample in an analytic row any way it pleases them until they see a result they like. As they don’t even hide it, they seem to think this is the proper way to do science. Continue reading “Melo and Kalluri defend discredited Nature paper with preprint, where they admit data “adjustments””→
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.
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”→
Sonia Melo, the Portuguese scientist accused of data manipulation and misconduct, now loses her EMBO Installation Grant funding by the European research agency EMBO. The EMBO funding was of ”50,000 Euros annually for three to five years” for her research lab at the Instituto de Patologia e Imunologia Molecular da Universidade do Porto (Ipatimup) in Portugal, as well as “benefits similar to those of the EMBO Young Investigator Programme“. EMBO has began their investigation into Melo’s publications in January 2016 after they were made aware of the accusations of data manipulation raised against Melo on PubPeer (see details here).
As I was informed by Tilmann Kiessling, Head of Communications at EMBO:
“as a follow up to your reporting on Sonia Melo, this is to confirm that EMBO has withdrawn the installation grant awarded to her. After EMBO had become aware of the allegations against papers authored by her we set up a committee to investigate these allegations. After a thorough analysis of all papers that had formed the basis for her application for the grant, the committee concluded that the body of work upon which the selection for an installation grant was made contained evidence of a level of negligence in handling and presenting data that would have precluded a recommendation for an award. The committee therefore decided that Sonia Melo should not become a member of the EMBO network of Young Investigators and Installation Grantees, and that the installation grant will be revoked. This has been communicated to Sonia Melo and her home institution on February 29.”.
Sonia Melo, Portuguese cancer researcher and recipient of the prestigious EMBO Installation Grant, now has her publications investigated by EMBO for suspected image manipulations. Her current and former research institutions are apparently actively avoiding any attempts to scrutinise her papers, some due to very heavy financial conflicts of interest. Yet my information suggests that Melo’s former PhD advisor and co-author, Manel Esteller, is being presently investigated by his research centre in Barcelona.
Melo already had to retract a first-author publication from her PhD period with Esteller from the journal Nature Genetics. The retraction notice admits image duplications:
“We have recently become aware of the presence of duplicated images in the Figures 3 and 4 and Supplementary Figures 5 and 6 in our publication Nat. Genet. 41, 365–370, 2009, that were assembled according to the specified author contributions. We therefore retract the publication for the sake of the high standards we expect for research and scientific journals. All the authors have signed this statement”.
The former star plant scientist Olivier Voinnet, currently professor at the Swiss elite university ETH Zürich has now had the most prestigious award bestowed by the European life science research society EMBO, the EMBO Gold medal, revoked. Prior to this, he admitted misconduct and data manipulation in dozens of his papers, seven of which were retracted. His funding by the Swiss National Fund was frozen and he was banned from further funding for 3 years.