Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

Columbia biologists “deeply regret” Nature retraction, after postdoc faked 74 panels in 3 papers

with 10 comments

natureA team of Columbia University biologists has retracted a 2013 Nature paper on the molecular pathways underlying Alzheimer’s disease, the second retraction from the group after a postdoc faked data.

An April report from the Office of Research Integrity (ORI) found the a first author, former Columbia postdoc Ryousuke Fujita, responsible for “knowingly and intentionally fabricating and falsifying research in seventy-four (74) panels” in three papers: a 2011 Cell paper retracted in 2014, an unpublished manuscript, and this now-retracted Nature paper, “Integrative genomics identifies APOE e4 effectors in Alzheimer’s disease.”

The paper was touted in a Columbia University Medical Center press release as identifying “key molecular pathways” leading to late-onset Alzheimer’s disease. The paper fingered two potential molecular drug targets, as well.

Here is the full retraction notice:

In this Article, we described integrative genomics analyses of Alzheimer’s disease and associated risk factors. However, reanalysis of the data has showed that sample numbers, image panels and data points were inappropriately manipulated and inaccurate in the ELISA and subcellular localization studies presented in Figs 2d, e, 3b, g, h and 4c, as well as in corresponding Supplementary Figs 10–16. We are in the process of repeating these cell-based studies. We remain confident in the transcriptomics and human genetics analyses reported in the Article. However, given these issues, we wish to retract the Article in its entirety. We deeply regret this circumstance and apologize to the community.

All six authors agreed to the retraction, according to Nature spokesperson Rebecca Walton. But, similar to another recent Nature retraction, the journal declined to comment further:

For confidentiality reasons, we cannot discuss the detailed editorial process or history of any Nature paper with anyone other than the authors. In general, if any authors disagree with a retraction, we note the dissenting authors in the retraction notice. In this case, all the authors signed the retraction.

When we reached out to senior author Asa Abeliovich to comment on the retraction, the Medical Center’s director of media relations, Karin Eskenazi, responded with a near identical statement to what they said when the ORI report came out:

Again, we deeply regret that one of our former employees engaged in research misconduct and that his misconduct affected two published scientific articles.

We recognize that the proper conduct of research is one of the most important responsibilities of a university.

In response to our queries about the repetition of the “cell-based studies” mentioned in the retraction notice, Eskenazi added:

Columbia investigators are now repeating the cell-based studies and this is ongoing.

The Cell paper had been cited 150 times, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge. This Nature paper has been cited 48 times, and has been designated as “highly cited.”

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  • Elpenor June 17, 2015 at 1:41 pm

    Everyone that signs off on the final manuscript is guilty to some degree, can’t have in both ways, either you’re a co-author or your not. Furthermore, the book stops with the PI, enjoy the glory got to deal with the disgrace.

    • Agree June 17, 2015 at 9:42 pm

      Absolutely agree. It also seems odd that none of the authors detected not even a single problem with the almost one dozen problematic figures. Either they did not check the final paper at all, or they did not check it carefully enough.

    • Helper June 18, 2015 at 10:43 am

      The typical phrase is “the buck stops here”.

  • Akhlesh June 17, 2015 at 5:41 pm

    Cite papers from these journals a few years after their publication. That way, one will lessen the risk of giving currency to a “false” paper.

  • setnaffa June 18, 2015 at 9:08 am

    So the new studies will probably indicate Bacon and Transfat cure Alzheimers and cancer.

  • DNADEB June 18, 2015 at 1:19 pm

    I think that the authors should have to contact everyone that cited the paper.

  • Daniel MacArthur June 21, 2015 at 1:12 pm

    Not a big deal, but I note that one of the authors is named as “Rong Cheng” on the original paper and “Rong Chen” on the retraction notice. Looks like the retraction notice might need a correction.

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