Leading cancer vaccines researcher retracts paper for figure “discrepancies” flagged by watchdog blog
Gerold Schuler, a German immunology researcher who shared the 2006 Deutscher Krebspreis — aka the German Cancer Prize — for his work that contributed to cancer vaccines has retracted a paper in International Immunology following concerns raised by a German science watchdog blog.
Here’s the notice:
After publication of our article “Optimizing the exogenous antigen loading of monocyte-derived dendritic cells”, several discrepancies have been brought to our attention. In Figure 1 and Figure 2A, in contrast to what is stated in the figure legends, identical control staining is shown within the various parts of the figures. In Figure 3, the dot-plots with values shown as 10.2 and 10.8 were obtained using the same data file, as were those with 12.9 and 14.1. In Figure 7, the dot-plots with values of 9.8 and 16.2 turned out to be derived from the same data set. The appropriate experiments are being repeated, but in the meantime the authors would like to retract the original manuscript and apologize for these errors.
The paper has been cited 14 times, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge, most recently by a PLoS ONE paper, “A Double-Blind Randomized Phase I Clinical Trial Targeting ALVAC-HIV Vaccine to Human Dendritic Cells.”
The paper’s use of the same controls in a number of images — which has tripped up a number of other authors about whom we’ve written — was noted last year here, here, and here by the Abnormal Science blog. The posts also raise questions about other papers by Schuler’s team.
Joerg Zwirner, the author of Abnormal Science, writes in that first post that he told senior author Gerold Schuler about the “severe irregularities” in the article last year. He also notes how prominent Schuler is:
In 2005, when the paper was published, the first and corresponding author Dr. Detlef Dieckmann left academics to become a dermatologist in private practice. Therefore, I contacted the senior author Prof. Schuler.
Since 1995, Gerold Schuler has been director of the Department of Dermatology at the university clinics Erlangen, Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg.
In 2006, he was awarded the German Cancer Prize for his work on dendritic cells.
He is speaker of the Collaborative Research Centre (Sonderforschungsbereich) 643: Strategies of cellular immune intervention.
At his clinic and elsewhere, melanoma patients have been treated using dendritic cell-based cancer vaccines, with very limited clinical efficacy so far (see here).
On July 7, after two terms, he retired by rotation from the Senate as well as the Executive Committee of the German Research Council (DFG), Germany’s largest research funding organisation.
From 2005-2011, he was also a member of the DFG Committee of Inquiry on Allegations of Scientific Misconduct.
What’s unclear, of course, is how the discrepancies ended up in the now-retracted paper, and why no one noticed before the study was published that some of the dot-plots “turned out to be derived from the same data set.”
We’ve contacted Schuler and the editor of International Immunity for comment, and will update with anything we hear back.
Update, 3 p.m. Eastern, 5/30/12: We received this message on behalf of Tadamitsu Kishimoto, the journal’s editor in chief:
The issues raised by the “Abnormal Science” blogs in relation to the original publication were apparently important in triggering the investigation by a University Committee for Good Scientific Practice at Erlangen-Nuremberg University, which also had input from an external expert.
No other Retractions are planned at the moment.
Update, 2 p.m. Eastern, 5/31/12: Schuler responded:
The errors were reported to me via by an e-mail of Dr. Jörg Zwirner to which I immediately responded, indicating that I will inform the University and ask for an independent investigation by the respective committee.Unfortunately, Dr. Zwirner at the same time started what I consider a smear campaign targeted at me personally e.g. by writing e-mails to employees of a large number of Universities without waiting for the results of an independent investigation by the FAU (Head: Prof. Dr. Karl-Dieter Grüske).There are no other retractions planned.