Following an investigation into research misconduct, the Journal of Clinical Investigation has retracted a cancer genetics paper from a laboratory at the National Institutes of Health due to “data falsification and fabrication” of four figures and a table in the paper.
The paper, “FOXO3 programs tumor-associated DCs to become tolerogenic in human and murine prostate cancer,” describes an overexpressed gene in mouse prostate cancers that appears to suppress immune system cells.
The journal retracted the paper following an investigation into author Stephanie K. Watkins, then a postdoctoral fellow at the National Cancer Institute. According to a NIH press release released about the study in March 2011, the work “has led to the submission of a patent application by the NIH on behalf of Hurwitz and Watkins to target FOXO3 as a way to boost immune responses in cancer and to silence excessive immune responses in autoimmune diseases.” We found an NIH record of the patent application, but no record of an approved patent at the United States Patent and Trademark Office under either Hurwitz or Watkins’ names.
The paper has been cited 62 times, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge. Here’s the full notice:
At the request of the corresponding author, the JCI is retracting the paper “FOXO3 programs tumor-associated DCs to become tolerogenic in human and murine prostate cancer” based on findings of data falsification and fabrication regarding Figures 1D and 8A, likely data falsification regarding Figure 4A, likely falsification or fabrication regarding Figure 4B, and erroneous sample attribution in Table 1. Following extensive review by an NIH-appointed investigation committee, the NIH found that one author, Stephanie Watkins, was the sole individual responsible for the instances of research misconduct. None of the other authors was aware of the misconduct.
We could not find contact information for Dr. Watkins, though she now appears to be an assistant professor at Loyola University in Chicago, with the retracted paper listed under her publications. Corresponding author Arthur Hurwitz directed us to Dr. Melissa Colbert, the NIH Research Integrity Officer, who had only this to say:
NIH believes that the retraction notice speaks for itself and has no further comment. Research misconduct proceedings at the NIH are considered confidential.
We also reached out to the JCI and will update if we hear back from them.