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Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

Retraction three for Milena Penkowa, for diabetes-exercise study

with one comment

diabetesMilena Penkowa, the former University of Copenhagen scientist found by her university to have embezzled grant funds and to have possibly committed misconduct in 15 papers, has another retraction.

An international panel released its findings in July, as Nature reported then:

The report by an international committee assembled by the University of Copenhagen concludes that there are significant indications that Milena Penkowa misrepresented both the number of animals used in experiments and data that measured the level of proteins in tissues. A leaked version of the same report was posted on a Danish news website in late July (see ‘Leaked report implicates Danish neuroscientist in misconduct case‘).

The university has passed the report to the Danish Committees on Scientific Dishonesty (DCSD), a government office that investigates research misconduct and will officially rule on whether misconduct took place. The university’s academic council for the faculty of health sciences will also now consider the report; it has the authority to withdraw the PhD and medical sciences doctorate that Penkowa earned at Copenhagen if it concludes that she is guilty.

The notice for the new retraction, which appeared in the October issue of Diabetes but was just indexed in Medline, is refreshingly detailed:

Metallothionein-mediated antioxidant defense system and its response to exercise training are impaired in human type 2 diabetes. Diabetes 2005;54:3089–3094

At the request of the authors, the above-mentioned article has been withdrawn from Diabetes. The letter below from Flemming Dela, MD, DMSci, and Celena Scheede-Bergdahl, BSc, MSc, PhD, explains the authors’ reasons for withdrawing the article:

In November 2005, our group published the above-mentioned article. At the root of the paper was a series of immunohistochemical stains for metallothionein (MTI+II), which one of the co-authors, Milena Penkowa (former professor at the University of Copenhagen), had performed.

Recently, the integrity of Milena Penkowa’s entire scientific work has been under investigation by an independent international panel set up by the University of Copenhagen. Their findings put into serious question the validity of Dr. Penkowa’s contribution to several papers, including this one. In order to support the efforts of the panel, we attempted to replicate Dr. Penkowa’s results presented in the article using other techniques (Western blots as opposed to the original immunohistochemical stains). A researcher outside of the original author group (Andreas Bergdahl, PhD, MSc, Concordia University, Montreal, Canada) kindly agreed to perform the protein analysis using a commercially available antibody, which would enable us to support the data obtained by Dr. Penkowa. However, we were not able to replicate the data presented in the article. The Western blot analysis revealed that there was an overall effect of diabetes on skeletal muscle metallothionein (MT) levels but that MT was higher in the diabetic subjects versus the control subjects. There was no effect of exercise. This is contrary to the data reported in the article.

As there is serious question to the integrity of Dr. Penkowa’s contribution to this work and our inability to experimentally support the original findings, we, the authors, have requested that the article be withdrawn. We regret any inconvenience to the readers of Diabetes.

The study has been cited 29 times, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge. It’s Penkowa’s third retraction so far.

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Written by Ivan Oransky

January 2, 2013 at 8:30 am

One Response

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  1. I don’t understand the ins and outs of retracting a study. What happens after a study is retracted? Is it no longer in existence? Is there a cleaner who scrubs the internet so the article is basically no longer exists? This is what happens to people like Prof Sid Gilman at the U of M. Or is the article still floating around in print and in cyberspace, waiting to be referenced yet again by some unsuspecting and innocent scientist?

    If there are cleaners, and there must be, what are the qualifications for the job and where do they advertise for these people?

    Bradley Evans

    January 3, 2013 at 11:31 pm


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