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Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

Cancer journal retracts herbal medicine paper, citing misconduct probe

with 174 comments

The journal Cancer Prevention Research has retracted a 2009 article by a group of scientists from the University of Kentucky after the institution determined that one of the figures in the article wasn’t kosher.

The article, “Psoralidin, an Herbal Molecule, Inhibits Phosphatidylinositol 3-Kinase–Mediated Akt Signaling in Androgen-Independent Prostate Cancer Cells,” has been cited 9 times, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge. Earlier iterations of the research were presented at two cancer meetings in 2008.

We’re not clear what, exactly, is wrong with the graphic; the notice isn’t particularly helpful (and behind a paywall, to boot) (Update, 1:30 p.m. Eastern: The paywall seems to have been removed):

The Publisher retracts this article (Can Prev Res 2009;2:234-243), which was published in the March 2009 issue of Cancer Prevention Research (1), based on the recommendation of the Investigation Committee at the University of Kentucky after an institutional investigation made a finding of misconduct related to Figure 3A.

The authors were given an opportunity to retract the article, but declined.

We heard from the publisher of the journal, the American Association of Cancer Research, but they didn’t have anything to add.

We did, however, reach the senior author of the paper, Chendil Damodaran, who seems to have borne the brunt of the punishment in the affair. Damodaran said he was asked to leave the University of Kentucky six months ago, after the school made its determination. But he insists the problem was essentially a clerical error made by someone working on the project — who, he doesn’t know — during the uploading of the figures:

It’s not misconduct. The student uploaded the wrong file. The University of Kentucky made a mistake about the misconduct

But Damodaran, who is now at Texas Tech University in El Paso, may be facing even bigger problems. His work was funded by a $1.1 million grant from the NIH, which now is investigating the case. Indeed, Damodaran said the matter arose when “somebody complained” to the agency about a problem with the figure.

Damodaran said he should have done a better job of checking the figures in the manuscript before they it was published  — although he says the other co-authors shared that responsibility, too. And he wonders why none of the other faculty members in the group was asked to leave the institution.

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174 Responses

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  1. Damodaran is also unfortunately supported by the U.S. Military research grant system as well: http://www.dtic.mil/cgi-bin/GetTRDoc?Location=U2&doc=GetTRDoc.pdf&AD=ADA426172

    Sierra Rayne

    October 30, 2011 at 4:18 pm

    • If there is evidence of fabrication in the paper included in the appendix then they need to know about this

      MT Orr

      October 30, 2011 at 4:34 pm

      • Of course, and they will be notified, as will Texas Tech and the University of Miami. But a strong comprehensive case must be built here.

        Sierra Rayne

        October 30, 2011 at 4:37 pm

  2. amazing!! comments are triple digits already!! I am not mentioning names here…there seems to be a bunch of people – whom I know of – in very close circle of the above two groups. they tend to bond together and help each other in securing grants, publications etc. Indeed, I heard that clinical studies are underway in MD Anderson and Albert Einstein Medical College (Montefiore Medical Center), Prevention and Cancer Control, University of Kansas School of Medicine with radiation oncology and other departments using some of the above compounds…..watch out. I wish I could disclose my identity. With due respect to Sierra Rayne, I am not ready yet to do this. I need some more time…I have already compiled a list of names for future investigations…hopefully some one will post something on them as well…Apologies.

    Not Surprising

    October 30, 2011 at 6:47 pm

    • Anonymity is sometimes required.

      Unfortunately, most of science now operates with these types of groups that ‘bond together’, help secure grants, publications, etc. It’s all put under the corrupt face of ‘networking’. There is a lot of it in my discipline as well.

      Overall, there may be only one way out of it – defund junk science and distribute scientific funding across a lot more researchers, as well as eliminate much of the purported ‘peer review’ in science. Peer review is largely a joke – it is tantamount to entrusting students in a class to fairly mark each others exams if they knew there was no oversight mechanism (i.e., they wouldn’t – they would take out personal disputes, etc., on each other’s marks – just as we currently do in science).

      Sierra Rayne

      October 30, 2011 at 7:00 pm

    • One has to wonder to what degree prior data fabrication contributes to the high failure rate of clinical trials
      One also needs to realize that at this level we are dealing with real life and false hope to suffering human beings
      Such snake oil salesmen need to be exposed and isolated; they are simply criminals

      MT Orr

      October 30, 2011 at 7:06 pm

      • Perhaps the high rate of failure of clinical trials tells us more about the gullibility of the public and the granting agencies they donate to. Perhaps these agencies are effectively getting what they deserve by not funding real scientists, and the public is getting what they deserve by continuing to pour money into a system that provides little results and from which they demand negligible accountability. Caveat emptor applies. I’m glad none of my tax dollars went to this nonsense.

        There are no easy answers on cancer research, climate science, alternative energy, nanotechnology, and the other well-funded (read: over-funded) areas of ‘applied science’ that attract snake oil salesman, and the fools who fund them.

        Sierra Rayne

        October 30, 2011 at 7:14 pm

      • The other issue to look into would be the possibility that there are intellectual property issues relating to some of the Chendil et al “discoveries”. Some of the “herbal” compounds are quite widely studied so I doubt this is the case but if these authors stood to profit from development of therapeutics it would provide another motive for the apparent deception.

        Time for someone to delve into the patent literature…

        Scotus

        October 30, 2011 at 8:11 pm

  3. These people were very instrumental in the eventual exposure of the Anil Potti cancer research scandal.
    http://www.cancerletter.com/
    I’m not sure they are going to get involved in scrutinizing basic research thats mostly published in lower tier journals but if some of the allegedly fraudulent research is the basis for clinical trials then thats something they would definitely be interested in.

    Scotus

    October 30, 2011 at 7:18 pm

    • Unfortunately, the cancer research field is so awash in scandals and fraudulent behavior that this case is likely irrelevant in the overall scheme of things. A reasonable perspective could be “so we wasted a few million on this project, big deal, we’ve wasted billions on other projects”. I am guessing the number of scandals in this field outnumber the number of investigations by a substantial margin.

      Sierra Rayne

      October 30, 2011 at 9:17 pm

  4. I looked at a number of the past publications and, as mentioned above for the retracted manuscript, the error in the bar graphs (I assume SEM) is incredibly small (especially for an N=3). Of course, this observation is not definitive like the image data. Nonetheless, I’ve not seen data this tight in a biological experiment in > 30 years of doing experiments.

    elledr1ver

    October 30, 2011 at 8:32 pm

  5. In these types of publications featured on this site, there is always going to be a choice: (1) go after the academic and journal publishing aspects, or (2) go after the ‘social justice’, money trail, IP, etc. aspects. Route #2 is difficult to tackle, largely hidden behind confidential ‘firewalls’, and will probably be pursued in litigation down the road once the individuals who provided the money realize ‘they have been duped’.

    Since the academic journals are supposed to be ‘open’, route #1 can be tackled publicly and effectively.

    Sierra Rayne

    October 30, 2011 at 9:47 pm

  6. Thanks Sierra Rayne for pointing to the link with Dr. Mansoor Ahmed’s CV. It is interesting to note that Dr. Damodaran followed Dr. Ahmed trail – Hiroshima, Japan (probably in the same laboratory) and then joined Dr. Ahmed in Kentucky. The association is almost 20 years now??

    http://www.uluonk.org/uluonkCV/mansor.pdf
    From Dr. Ahmed’s cv, it is apparent he is actively involved in organsing conferences in India in his field. Ironically, he as the organising secretary for a Joint Workshop on Promoting Research Ethics Education in India – conducted in Chennai in collaboration with Sri Ramachandra University and University of Miami…in 2009. How relevant is this in light of the above irregularities?

    Not Surprising

    October 31, 2011 at 12:07 am

    • “Research ethics” groups and workshops are unreliable, as they often are led by individuals with shady activities in their past. In many cases such efforts are oxymoronic given the ethics of the individuals, and indeed – institutions, involved.

      The real tragedy in this case (or cases – as it appears to be developing) we are discussing involves the ethical scientists who did not get jobs, research grants, etc., at the expense of unethical individuals who did.

      Sierra Rayne

      October 31, 2011 at 10:58 am

  7. Totally!! Agreed…some of us are stuck at the bottom because unethical individuals climb the ladder without much effort…

    Not Surprising

    October 31, 2011 at 8:53 pm

    • Yep. Science is a nasty political world nowadays with little honor. Even over my relatively short career, I’ve seen it change a lot.

      I recall when I started my B.Sc. in the mid-90s at a relatively small university-college in Canada, I was largely surrounded (at least in the physical sciences) by ‘classic’ old-school type honorable professors who appeared to take little interest in the immature world of petty politics, and who appeared to want to promote not only the best, but also the most ethical (i.e., good people), students. Even then, though, I could see potential trouble with some of the younger faculty and lab instructors, and sure enough, 15 years later, I’m blogging about the ridiculously unethical behavior of some of these same people I identified back in the mid-90s.

      Graduate school was a massive eye-opener into just how corrupt science is (right, Michael Ikonomou at Fisheries and Oceans Canada?).

      Nowadays, I see hardly any of the ‘old-guard types’, and mostly a preponderance of the current set of immature nitwits. And that is exactly what leads to the types of issues we discuss on this page, on this website, and many of the as-yet-untold stories.

      The infantilization of western society over the past two decades is most pronounced and evident in science (as is clear from most documentary TV shows on science topics nowadays [e.g., BBC, PBS, etc.], which look like they are aimed at an audience with a collective pre-adolescent maturity level and delivered by a host with a similar maturity level).

      But I digress …

      Sierra Rayne

      October 31, 2011 at 11:05 pm

  8. Argh. Reservatrol? That’s one of the starting compounds in my synthesis! And although I’m not working with cancer cells, 3/4 of the papers I’m using for research are…

    Anyone else ever had to specifically watch RW to make sure that no papers they’ve referenced get retracted?

    Also, do Ivan & Adam know you can only nest replies three deep? Post –> Reply 1 –> Reply 2 –> Reply 3. The “Reply” tag disappears from Reply 3.

    helen-louise

    November 3, 2011 at 4:21 pm

  9. I received the following reply from the MCT editorial office today in response to the e-mail I sent them on the weekend that is pasted above. An appropriate reply from the journal (although they could not have known my gender is male, not female!), and hopefully more issues will be resolved regarding Damodaran’s publishing history:

    “Dear Ms. Rayne,
    Thank you for bringing this to our attention. The journal and the AACR is currently looking into this. Dr. Von Hoff sends his appreciation for your concern.
    Best regards,
    Candice

    Candice Nulsen, Ph.D.
    Sr. Associate Editor/MCT
    Translational Genomics Research Institute
    445 N. 5th St.
    Phoenix, AZ 85004″

    Sierra Rayne

    November 3, 2011 at 6:41 pm

  10. I am speaking from the inside of the U of Kentucky. I know Dr. Chendil and his writing style. I am researcher who does bench work experiments, and therefore have plenty of experience in running gels and analyzing the data including examining raw images from Western blots. With this background, I would like to express my ‘opinions’ on a few issues raised above.

    1. The blogger with the named as ‘Charlotte’ writes the way Dr. Chendil does. This person wrote twice on October 28th (Please read what he/she wrote above ). This person was defending Dr. Chendil against accusations he was getting. I strong suspect that he is Dr. Chendil. The reason why I believe so? First, he writes exactly the same way the blogger ‘Charlotte’ wrote. The phrases that were used such as ‘big shots’ were repeatedly used by Chendil when he was defending himself while he was at Kentucky. He is the only person from whom I heard the phrase ‘big shots’. It may be used by many others, but he used to used this phase so often. Charlotte is the first name of Dr. Charlotte Peterson who was the research associate dean in the college where Chendil held his faculty position at the U of Kentucky and, most importantly, was the person who led the investigation on Chendil’s misconduct. My guess is that he intentionally used Dr. Peterson’s name as his nickname.

    2. The investigation was performed in an extremely confidential way. No one knows what was the true outcome of the investigation except University officials and Chendil himself. Chendil and his two associates were one time officially fired at the completion of the investigation. However, strangely, the employment status of each of them was restored a few weeks later. Soon after Dr. Chendil left University of Kentucky. Later, I leant that he moved to a different University. Now I know it is UT New Mexico.

    3. In regard to the recent blogs written by MuchChad – what he/she wrote about the gel banding patterns does not make any sense. There is no way that you would get the same patterns of get banding from any experiment. Even though you run exactly the same protein samples on the same gel, there will be more or less differences in their banding patterns. In nature, the pore sizes and shapes in a gel are different across the gel. A tiny difference in the size/shape will cause changes in sample migration speed, shape of the bands and distance between the bands. Furthermore, when you perform Western blot assay, there are so many factors and steps where changes can be made. It is absolutely impossible for you to produce exactly same Western blot results even with exactly same samples, tools, procedures, reagents and time of each step. Bottom line, no one who has experience with Western blotting will buy your logic of explaining how the faulty Western blot images of Dr. Chendil’s papers could be the same the way as they are presented.

    wonder

    November 16, 2011 at 3:15 pm

    • This kind of disclosure is absolutely needed for such responses. I guessed so…Muchchad must be from University of Miami – as Sierra Rayne pointed. You guess who it could be…

      Not Surprising

      November 16, 2011 at 9:07 pm

      • Agreed. Based on recent web visits to my blog, someone at U. of Miami is checking out my blog and my publication record. So when they attack, I’ll know where and who to counterattack.

        Fascinating stuff ‘wonder’, thanks for the report and insights.

        The question I have is who at U. of Kentucky gave Chendil the references required to go somewhere else after an apparent internal finding of misconduct? That sounds unethical, at the least, to me.

        Sierra Rayne

        November 16, 2011 at 9:20 pm

    • Can you tell us something about how the problems with Chendil’s work came to light?
      Did someone in the lab blow the whistle or were teh problems (which are obvious to anyone that looks at the papers) identified by someone not associated with the University of Kentucky?

      scotus

      November 21, 2011 at 3:17 pm

      • We were told by a source that the person who brought this matter to the University authority was a former member of Dr. Chendil’s lab. The University of Kentucky investigation panel should know. Initial investigation was led by Dr. Charlotte Peterson, Vice Dean for Research, College of Health Sciences, University of Kentucky. At least, she should know. But, no official word was released from the investigation panel or by the research dean in regard to who was the person. Furthermore, I do not know why the investigation result was not publicized. As Dr. Chendil’s science was corrupt, the investigation or management of the investigation or the outcome was also corrupt? I suspect a dirty deal was made between Chendil and the University as he left the University of Kentucky, and moved to the next University (UT New Mexico) without any string attached: he was untenured assistant professor, but moved to UT as a tenured associate professor. If the investigation result was publicized, the UT New Mexico and we, the science community, would not suffer. Transparency is not there and scholars/professors who are supposed to speak in honesty are quiet. Isn’t a university the place where truth, justice and knowledge are taught to the next generation?

        wonder

        November 21, 2011 at 11:07 pm

        • Very well said.

          Sierra Rayne

          November 21, 2011 at 11:43 pm

      • Everywhere the same..truth is being withheld..i am going to alert the relevant places where he is being considered as an extraordinary scientist…

        not surprising

        November 22, 2011 at 1:35 am

  11. Exactly! again, the point should be highlighted that it is not witch hunt..Honesty vs dishonesty. Good science vs bad/sloppy science…

    not surprising

    November 16, 2011 at 9:44 pm

    • When there are witches around, a witch hunt is neither unwarranted nor unreasonable.

      Sierra Rayne

      November 16, 2011 at 9:48 pm

      • To my knowledge, none of his faculty colleague from U of Kentucky wrote a reference letter for him. At least, I believe so. I think he should have used his ring of people to serve him as references. Under this theory (and probably the case), it is the fault of his new employer (UT New Mexico) for not contacting his former employer before hiring him. There is a pretty good possibility that Dr. Chendil blamed U of Kentucky and his colleagues to the new employer during the hiring process, as a way or reason to not provide references from them. Remember his papers has so many of manipulated data sets….can’t he manipulate situations and people, too?

        wonder

        November 16, 2011 at 10:42 pm

        • Agreed, the onus should have been on UT to appropriately inquire as to what went on. That said, in light of the subsequent retraction (and other concerns noted), perhaps UT can ‘re-examine’ their decision(s) if conflicting information was provided to them in the past.

          Your point about ‘people manipulation’ and ‘support groups’ is well taken. This is why all academic hiring decisions need to be publicly transparent. At present, most faculty hiring nowadays has nothing to do with fairness and equity in selecting the best candidate (yes, there are exceptions, but they are exceptions), and everything to do with satisfying political allegiances. Academia has failed as a self-regulating profession, it neither regulates itself appropriately, nor does it act professionally.

          Sierra Rayne

          November 17, 2011 at 9:31 am

    • So do you know if the scope of the UK investigation went beyond the single paper that has been retracted so far? The evidence of image manipulation in so many of the other papers is so blatant and obvious it will look very bad for UK if it turns out that they didn’t identify these in their investigation.

      The reason the result was not publicized is that the UK investigation has to be passed onto the NIH/ORI who will make a “final determination”. Until that time, unless UK were willing to risk the legal liability of going public, assuming that he hasn’t admitted to anything, Chendil can continue to pretend that he has done nothing wrong.

      scotus

      November 22, 2011 at 2:25 pm

  12. “Much” or “mooch” is a moustache. A “muchchad” is someone with an especially impressive moustache.

    http://sacredgames.typepad.com/glossary/2006/08/muchchad.html

    http://sylvester.org/research/knowledgebase/scientist/m_ahmed

    Scotus

    November 24, 2011 at 1:12 pm

  13. You nailed it down Scotus. Very impressive. See my comment of October 31 , 2011 at 12:07 for his involvement in ethics…very interesting case though.

    Not Surprising

    November 24, 2011 at 8:23 pm

  14. I was thinking something like this might be more impressive…

    http://www.the-latest.com/files/images/moustache_edited.preview.jpg

    Do we know why he left Kentucky? Is there anyone else with connections to Chendil and Ahmed still in Kentucky?

    Scotus

    November 24, 2011 at 10:38 pm

  15. Not Surprising

    November 26, 2011 at 1:14 am

    • To external observers, stuff like this takes away from the seriousness of the serious topics we are discussing.

      I also do not personally support this level of political correctness.

      Sierra Rayne

      November 26, 2011 at 1:12 pm

  16. ok.
    it was mentioned somewhere on this blog that ORI is investigating Dr. Damodaran’s case. Is it possible for a person who is under investigation to be actively involved in academic activities? Is he/she be allowed to continue his/her research/teaching in the university? Is he/she allowed to submit grant applications?

    Not Surprising

    November 26, 2011 at 7:11 pm

  17. Speaking of image manipulation, look at Figure 6 (the FTIR spectra) in this paper: http://www.springerlink.com/content/tv78p2542m7r2913/

    Zoom in on the regions around 3100 cm-1 in Fig. 6(a) and (b) – noting the discontinuous lines. Also note the discontinuity between 1100-1200 cm-1 in Fig. 6(b).

    Sierra Rayne

    December 26, 2011 at 10:38 pm

  18. Any follow-up on papers by Prof Bharat Aggarwal?
    Last month, I read about potential serious frauds in >10 papers by the well-known professor. The ‘m3′ website was subsequently blocked. Again, high number of image data manipulation.
    Any fact to it?

    Daniel

    January 7, 2012 at 10:43 pm

  19. Daniel, i was about to bring this up…some how, japanese blog has been blocked and abnormal science has also stopped posting anything new since December 19, 2011 and the last activity was on 31st Dec 2011. Fear!! fear!!

    Not Surprising

    January 8, 2012 at 5:12 am

  20. This is my first post on this case. I thought someone would follow this up – (for eg. sierra rayne or not surprising) who were very active. When I read earlier that he was a convener for a session on Cancer Stem Cells at the Indian Science Congress. Conference organisers and Dr. Shirkant Anant who was the chairperson of the session were alerted and they immediately removed his name from the convener responsibility. I was a bit curious to see whether they were honest in their action. I searched his name on the web (I was informed by a friend of mine in India who was attending the congress) and found that Dr. Chendil Damodaran indeed was an invited speaker at the plenary session on Cancer Stem Cells and he gave a talk on his herbal compound Please see the link http://www.isc2012.com/pdf/programme_booklet.pdf Moreover, his research was highlighted in the newsupdate…http://www.kiit.ac.in/newsupdate/jan12.html it is mentioned that video links of the talks will be available soon…http://kiit.tv/live.asp
    You decide yourself on the situation. I don’t think anything will be done hereafterwards. What do you think, Sierra Rayne?

    Ressci Integrity

    January 8, 2012 at 5:37 am

    • I think that this issue says a lot about the ethics (or lack thereof) of science in India, and also raises some troubling questions as to what is going on at Texas Tech. Not too much to follow-up on this beyond the valid concerns you have raised.

      Many areas of science are so corrupt from top to bottom that this type of nonsense will go on for some time.

      Sierra Rayne

      January 12, 2012 at 9:31 am

  21. Is Dr. Chendil still @ texas tech Univ.? I cannot find his profile anywhere.

    sai_pranav2003@yahoo.com

    March 16, 2012 at 8:52 pm

  22. hey guys!! Look at this Mansoor Ahmed’s new contact below. Dont be surpriced!!! He left University of Mimai.
    Mansoor M. Ahmed Ph.D.
    Program Director
    Radiotherapy Development Branch (RDB)
    Radiation Research Program (RRP)
    Division of Cancer Treatment and Diagnosi s (DCTD) National Cancer Institute/National Institutes of Health

    scot

    March 28, 2012 at 5:26 pm

  23. WOW. A big leap and a well deserved promotion!! more to do…He can even investigate people doing misconduct….the job is really powerful and lucky Chendil.

    Ressci Integrity

    March 28, 2012 at 6:50 pm

  24. I get an offer for Postdoc position under Chendil Damodaran. Luckily I read this forum and decided not to join. Thank you guys .

    jai

    April 2, 2012 at 8:18 pm

  25. A new paper from Dr. MM…in collaboration with a company…this group has been quiet for some time in terms publication.
    Patel V, Papineni RV, Gupta S, Stoyanova R, Ahmed MM.A realistic utilization of nanotechnology in molecular imaging and targeted radiotherapy of solid tumors.Radiat Res. 2012 Apr;177(4):483-95. Epub 2012 Mar 9.
    Any expert comments on this?

    Ressci Integrity

    April 18, 2012 at 9:54 am


  26. I found this on you tube someone taking about ethics in research. such an irony.

    Jeany

    July 7, 2012 at 3:35 pm

    • this is amazing…i missed this totally…well done DR. MM…

      Ressci Integrity

      August 27, 2012 at 11:13 pm

  27. Interesting that above there is a note about Santosh Katiyar.

    Well he has just retracted a paper from Carcinogenesis on prostate cancer and at least seven more appear under suspicion.

    amw

    August 27, 2012 at 10:35 pm

  28. I came across this website recently and have been following it quite closely. Does anyone have an update as to the current status of the paper published by Dr. Damodaran in MCT which has many issues as correctly cited by Sierra Rayne?

    It should not take the editorial board a year to decide on misrepresentation of data published in their journal. I would like to write to the editorial board myself. But I would like to know if an action has been taken already before I write to them.

    It is atrocious that people like Damodaran are still employed by state universities that are run mainly by tax payers dollars.

    Any response with regard to the paper will be really appreciated. Thanks.

    Yana Zeig

    November 6, 2012 at 4:12 pm


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