Two EMBO corrections for the martyred saint Maria Pia Cosma

Two EMBO corrections for the martyred saint Maria Pia Cosma

The cell biologist Maria Pia Cosma, top-funded and prize-winning professor in Barcelona, is either an indestructible zombie scientist or a martyred saint. Her name means in Italian Mary the Pious, so it is probably the latter. So the following post is written in the style of a canonical satire.

Holy Mary Pia was accused by evil tongues on PubPeer of research misconduct in several of her publications. Philistines pointed crooked fingers and cast stones at duplicated western blot bands in papers published by St. Maria Pia in exalted scriptures like Cell. The accusers, envious of such impact factors, wished those gospels of scientific truth crucified on the cross of retraction and demanded for Our Lady of Barcelona to be judged and investigated. Yet Lord took mercy upon the tortured saint and sent His angels to defend her.

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The martyr of research integrity, St. Maria Pia (right, standing) receives a sign for “Beatified”. Source: Cosma lab, under fair use

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Claudia’s trachea

Claudia’s trachea
This is the English original of my story for Hipertextual, first published in Spanish on 27.10.2016.

What did we learn from the trachea transplant scandal around the miracle surgeon and stem cell pioneer Paolo Macchiarini, who used to conduct his human experiments in Germany, Spain, Italy, Sweden and Russia? That despite the stem cell fairy magic, all his plastic trachea transplants proved deadly for his patients, except of one or two cases where the transplant was removed early enough. These patients were not saved by Macchiarini though: he quickly lost interest in his human Guinea pigs, especially when his miracle cures started to fail. One such patient, a young woman from Turkey, lost several organs in the process, and was only saved so far due to excellent medical care and organ transplants. Macchiarini meanwhile was busy experimenting on humans in Russia, the saddest case was that of another young woman who was tricked into agreeing to an allegedly life-improving plastic trachea, which caused her death soon after.

But it was not only about the lethal plastic, and there were more young women (and some men) who were killed or mutilated by Macchiarini’s trachea transplants, while other options were available to save their lives and health. What often remains unspoken: the technology which Macchiarini used before, that of a dead donor trachea stripped of cells and allegedly reconstituted with stem cells, failed as well. Without exception, but for some reason the method is still being presented as ground-breaking success and in fact there are currently clinical trials happening in UK and soon in the whole EU. These are led by none other than by Macchiarini’s formerly closest ally, the British surgeon Martin Birchall. What the two of them did to their very first patient whom they operated in 2008 at the Hospital Clinic Barcelona, is nothing less but a bankruptcy of basic medical ethics which almost costed that young woman her life. Other Spanish doctors have been rescuing her life ever since, while Macchiarini and Birchall were busy making their fame and careers by parading this utterly failed transplant of a rotting trachea as an epic success story.

The untold story of Claudia Castillo and her trachea transplant features these key points:

  • Patient was neglected by Macchiarini and his Barcelona colleagues prior and after the transplant operation, while her condition deteriorated
  • Standard therapies were not considered or rejected in favour of a totally untested, scientifically unfounded and unrealistic method
  • “Informed constent” of the patient was obtained through deliberate misinformation
  • The transplant was prepared in a British veterinary lab using animal products, in total disregard for elementary safety measures in human medicine. The responsible British authorities were misinformed, the incident soon covered up and all research documentation vanished.

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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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The newly found innocence of Paolo Macchiarini

The newly found innocence of Paolo Macchiarini

The tide is turning for the fallen star surgeon Paolo Macchiarini, who transplanted numerous patients with lethal tracheas made out of dead donor organs or plastic and sprinkled with cells from the bone marrow. Just when Macchiarini started to became the synonym for everything what is bad and evil in regenerative medicine, after two damning investigations by his former employers Karolinska Institutet (KI) and the Karolinska University Hospital, things began to change for the better.

In a surprising decision, the Italian court in Florence cleared the former head surgeon of Careggi Hospital of all accusations of fraud (Macchiarini was accused of extortion, namely of huge sums from patient families while offering to save the terminally ill). This court decision prompted the Tuscan governor Enrico Rossi to immediately lament the loss of a “great surgeon”, who would have done so much good if he only remained in Florence, under proper control. Back in 2010, this politician’s exalting letter of recommendation helped Macchiarini to get the KI professorship despite the many negative references from his medical colleagues.

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Does ERC help cheaters pay protection money?

Does ERC help cheaters pay protection money?

Did you ever wonder why certain zombie scientists were still in academic jobs? Despite having been caught on data manipulation or biomedical ethics breach?

It seems the answer is simpler than you thought. They are paying for their protection, by giving pizzo to their crooked research institutions, just as in some unoriginal mafia film. Well, actually YOU are paying their pizzo, through your taxes, which in turn are awarded to these zombie scientists as public research funding, from the national, international and European funding agencies. In fact, the most prestigious and self-important European funding agency ERC is completely unprepared or maybe just unwilling to respond to evidence of research misconduct by their elite grant recipients.  

My understanding is provocative, and I may be utterly wrong. But absent of any reasonable alternative explanations, let us for a moment go with this one. I will provide you with examples where questionable European scientists surprisingly retained their European funding unquestioned (or even received fresh millions of Euros), and coincidently or not,  many institutions did not at all mind to keep them in their jobs. Continue reading “Does ERC help cheaters pay protection money?”

With Voinnet and Cosma cover-up, Cell now admits to have no editorial integrity whatsoever

The elite journal Cell issued editorial notices in regard to 3 papers by the Swiss-based French plant scientist Olivier Voinnet (found guilty of research misconduct in many papers) and one by the Spain-based Italian cell biologist Maria Pia Cosma (some information about her papers here). The journal Molecular Cell (which editorial offices are not entirely independent from Cell) issued same note for a different Cosma paper.

Despite obvious data manipulations, the journal decided not to do even as little as a correction. This is in full agreement with a previous declaration by the Cell Editor-in-Chief Emilie Marcus, who announced one year ago to be tolerating data manipulations in her journal, provided the science described is “wow” and “cool” (see details in my satire article here). Indeed, as a branch of the private business Elsevier, Cell is free to publish whatever they wish, even explicit fraud, lies and fakery. It is however the duty of all scientists, funding agencies and the subscription-paying university libraries to decide if what Cell publishes is actually any good science under such policies.  Even if it reads“wow”.

I will simply list the four editorial notices below, accompanied with some corresponding images off PubPeer. Naturally, none of that author-provided evidence (i.e., where it existed in the first place) which Cell found so convincing, is shared with us nosy readers. Make your own judgement, the notices speak for themselves. Continue reading “With Voinnet and Cosma cover-up, Cell now admits to have no editorial integrity whatsoever”

Does Spanish Research recruit its Leaders from PubPeer?

One dishonest scientist sacked, another one is welcomed. At least this is what it looks like at the Spanish National Centre for Cardiovascular Research, CNIC, which seems to be recruiting their principal investigators through the whistleblower platform PubPeer, as the scientist who alerted me to this development quipped half-jokingly. The new recruitment at the Madrid institute is the regenerative medicine researcher Pura Muñoz-Cánoves, whose papers contain evidence of data manipulation in form of band and lane duplications in western blots and gels.

CNIC only recently sacked the ERC-funded heart regeneration researcher Susana Gonzalez. Their investigative report is confidential and not available to public, though one can safely assume misconduct was in play. Gonzalez quickly found another job, at a different Madrid research institute, her €2 Million ERC funding is not terminated, but suspended while ERC investigates (see my brief report here). Gonzalez’ research specialization is cardiac muscle ageing and regeneration (or the data manipulation therein), that of Muñoz-Cánoves is just the same, but for the skeletal muscle. The latter is therefore a suitable replacement for the former in every respect. Continue reading “Does Spanish Research recruit its Leaders from PubPeer?”