Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

Cancer researcher contributed “false data” to 11 studies

with 24 comments

ori-logoA former cancer researcher has falsified data in 11 studies, according to the results of a investigation scheduled to be published in the Federal Register tomorrow.

The Office of Research Integrity’s findings are based on an inquiry at Virginia Commonwealth University, where Girija Dasmahapatra worked until July of this year, investigating possible therapies for cancer. The misconduct affected research funded by three grants from the National Institutes of Health. Steven Grant, a researcher at VCU, is the principal investigator on the grants, each of which total over $2 million in funding. All of the 11 affected papers will be corrected or retracted, according to the ORI notice.

Two of the papers containing “falsified and/or fabricated” data — a study on an experimental combination of drugs for blood cancer and one on chemotherapies for rare forms of lymphoma  — were covered in press releases by VCU.

According to the notice in the Federal Register:

Based on the report of an inquiry conducted by Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU), the willingness of the Respondent to settle this matter, and analysis conducted by ORI in its oversight review, ORI found that Dr. Girija Dasmahapatra, former Instructor, Department of Internal Medicine, VCU, engaged in research misconduct in research supported by National Cancer Institute (NCI), National Institutes of Health (NIH), grants R01 CA063753, R01 CA093738, and R01 CA100866.

The affected papers are:

  • “Synergistic interactions between MEK1/2 and histone deacetylase inhibitors in BCR/ABL plus human leukemia cells,” published in Leukemiacited 61 times according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge
  • Flavopiridol and histone deacetylase inhibitors promote mitochondrial injury and cell death in human leukemia cells that overexpress Bcl-2, published in Molecular Pharmacology, cited 42 times

  • The tyrphostin adaphostin interacts synergistically with proteasome inhibitors to induce apoptosis in human leukemia cells through a reactive oxygen species (ROS)-dependent mechanism, published in Blood, cited 86 times

  • Adaphostin and bortezomib induce oxidative injury and apoptosis in imatinib mesylate-resistant hematopoietic cells expressing mutant forms of Bcr/Abl, published in Leukemia Researchcited 26 times

  • Synergistic interactions between vorinostat and sorafenib in chronic myelogenous leukemia cells involve mcl-1 and p21(CIP1) down-regulation, published in Clinical Cancer Research, cited 54 times

  • Bcl-2 antagonists interact synergistically with bortezomib in DLBCL cells in association with JNK activation and induction of ER stress, published in Cancer Biology & Therapy, cited 25 times

  •  The pan-HDAC inhibitor vorinostat potentiates the activity of the proteasome inhibitor carfilzomib in human DLBCL cells in vitro and in vivo, published in Bloodcited 63 times 

  • Carfilzomib Interacts Synergistically with Histone Deacetylase Inhibitors in Mantle Cell Lymphoma Cells In Vitro and In Vivo, published in Molecular Cancer Therapeutics, cited 39 times 

  • Obatoclax Interacts Synergistically with the Irreversible Proteasome Inhibitor Carfilzomib in GC- and ABC-DLBCL Cells In Vitro and In Vivo, published in Molecular Cancer Therapeutics, cited 17 times

  • The Bruton tyrosine kinase (BTK) inhibitor PCI-32765 synergistically increases proteasome inhibitor activity in diffuse large-B cell lymphoma (DLBCL) and mantle cell lymphoma (MCL) cells sensitive or resistant to bortezomib, published in the British Journal of Haematology, cited 32 times

  • In Vitro and In Vivo Interactions between the HDAC6 Inhibitor Ricolinostat (ACY1215) and the Irreversible Proteasome Inhibitor Carfilzomib in Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma Cells, published in Molecular Cancer Therapeutics, cited twice

The notice includes some details about which aspects of the papers are problematic:

ORI found that Respondent falsified and/or fabricated data by reporting the results of Western blot experiments and mouse imaging experiments that examined interactions between multiple histone deacetylase and/or proteasome inhibitors in several cancer models. Specifically, Respondent duplicated, reused, and/or relabeled Western blot panels and mouse images and claimed they represented different controls and/or experimental results in:

-Blood 2006, Figures 2A and 2B (Tubulin), 2C (c-Jun & Tubulin), and 3E and 3F (Tubulin)

-Blood 2010, Figures 4A and 4C (JNK & Tubulin)

-BJH 2013, Figures 2A and 6B (Tubulin)

-CBT 2009, Figure 4B (Actin)

-CCR 2007, Figures 3B (PARP) and 6A (Tubulin)

-Leuk 2005, Figures 3B (PARP CF) and 4A, 4B, and 4C (Tubulin)

-LR 2006, Figure 3D (Actin – BaF/3-WT) 3

-MCT 2011, Figures 2B and 3D (Tubulin) and 6B (0 d – CFZ-2.0mg/Kg & 12 d – CFZ + VOR)

-MCT 2012, Figures 3A (JNK & Tubulin, 3B (Tubulin – scram), 3D (Tubulin – pUSE-AKT cl.3), and 6B (CFZ + obato)

-MCT 2014, Figures 3A (JNK 1 & Tubulin), 3B (JNK & Tubulin), and 3C (Tubulin)

-MP 2006, Figures 1D and 1E (Caspase 3, CF Caspase 3, PARP & Tubulin), 2C (PARP), 3B, 4A, and 4B (Tubulin), 6A (Tubulin – U937-pSFFv 12 hr treatment & U937-Bcl-2-ΔN 24 hr treatment), and 9A (Cox-IV)

Steven Grant declined to comment.

The flagged papers were published between 2005-2014; Pam Lepley, Vice President of University Relations at VCU, told us Dasmahapatra was working there until July, 2015:

As soon as we were made aware of potential irregularities in the manuscripts’ figures, per VCU policy, we launched an internal inquiry that led to an investigation. The federal Office of Research Integrity was notified, also per our policy, and assisted with the forensic analysis of many of the figures.  In the course of the investigation, the former research instructor, Dr. Girija Dasmahapatra, admitted responsibility, which lead to a Voluntary Exclusion Agreement between him and the ORI. Dasmahapatra left the university in July of this year. The laboratory in which he worked has taken steps to prevent these kinds of errors from occurring again, and journals where the manuscripts were published are being contacted in order to take the necessary editorial actions.

As part of a voluntary agreement, according to the notice, Dasmahapatra will

exclude himself for a period of three (3) years from the effective date of the Agreement from any contracting or subcontracting with any agency of the United States Government…

Dasmahapatra’s LinkedIn page appears to be outdated — it still lists him as an instructor at VCU. We have found contact information for an instructor by the same name who works at a community college, but have not confirmed that this is the same researcher. We will update this post with anything else we learn.

Update 12/9/15 1:11 p.m. eastern: We asked VCU what sparked the inquiry, and the spokeswoman told us:

The VCU Office of Research Integrity and Ethics received an email in December 2014 from an anonymous source that alerted us to the matter, after which we launched an internal inquiry.

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Comments
  • Anonymous December 9, 2015 at 2:00 pm

    “Steven Grant declined to comment.” As the supervisor, surely Dr. Grant must also be held responsible? When a manuscript is submitted to a journal, it is implicit that all authors have seen, and approved, of the content for publication.

  • fernandopessoa December 9, 2015 at 3:14 pm

    “The VCU Office of Research Integrity and Ethics received an email in December 2014 from an anonymous source that alerted us to the matter, after which we launched an internal inquiry.”

    An institutional investigation and an ORI report within a year is much more like it. Well done!

  • Steven McKinney December 9, 2015 at 5:19 pm

    Wow. All of the teeny tiny error bars atop all of the barplots in the BHJ paper “The Bruton tyrosine kinase (BTK) inhibitor PCI-32765 . . .” are another tell that things need much vetting in this set of papers. When images are concocted, as now proven for this paper, what data was there from which to even construct means and standard errors? Full bodies of data need to be shown, and verified against original source material, whenever image manipulation is uncovered.

    Kudos to those who posted PubPeer entries documenting all the image manipulation, and to the ORI and VCU for working through this issue in such a relatively timely fashion.

  • Scientist December 9, 2015 at 8:57 pm

    In this kind of case, the PI should be punished equally.

    • Korey Austin December 12, 2015 at 2:32 pm

      I agree. His title is “Professor Eminent Scholar” and his annual salary is $329,749. Dasmahapatra’s annual salary was $51,838 and his title was “Instructor”. This research grant was approximately 2 million dollars and Steven Grant was one of the center’s Top Cancer Researchers. There is also a Grant Specialist who is responsible to oversee the management of all grants for this department. I am finding it difficult to believe these two individuals worked together for all these years and a highly compensated, top researcher and scholar who is the lead on all these major projects/publications and with a Grant Specialist in place to make sure all the checks and balances were in place to ensure nothing like this ever happened something like this did. What I also find “interesting” is Dasmahapatra was not terminated. The anonymous email was sent to VCU in December 2014 and he remained employed during this “internal investigation” and then “left” in July to go to work at the community college a few miles down the road as an instructor. Both positions are State Agencies. (I am also a state employee)

  • Anonymous December 9, 2015 at 9:28 pm

    How are co-authors who might truly be innocent, shielded from the shrapnel effect of this explosive finding, especially those that remain in science?

    • fernandopessoa December 10, 2015 at 2:15 am

      That could be your job.

  • CarolynS December 10, 2015 at 7:20 am

    This should say ‘principal investigator” not ‘principle investigator.”

    • Ivan Oransky December 10, 2015 at 7:23 am

      Fixed, thanks.

  • fernandopessoa December 10, 2015 at 8:02 am

    Another Steven Grant paper under scrutiny at Pubpeer:

    https://pubpeer.com/publications/2B44EAD8D695E167B814EDAF1C08B8#fb42318

  • fernandopessoa December 10, 2015 at 8:12 am

    Another Steven Grant paper under scrutiny at Pubpeer:

    https://pubpeer.com/publications/18223231

  • fernandopessoa December 10, 2015 at 8:39 am

    Another Steven Grant paper under scrutiny at Pubpeer:

    https://pubpeer.com/publications/24594907

  • Paul Brookes December 10, 2015 at 8:53 am

    The one good thing to come out of this is the last line of the article… “The VCU Office of Research Integrity and Ethics received an email in December 2014 from an anonymous source that alerted us to the matter, after which we launched an internal inquiry.”

    Kudos to VCU for actually doing something on the basis of an anonymous tip, rather than simply ignoring it as many other places seem to do.

    • Anonymous December 21, 2015 at 9:02 am

      And kudos to the anonymous tipster. This is disgusting in any case, but the fact that fraud has been perpetrated by this guy at least 11 times and in studies that might be precursors to chemo combination trials in patients is really disturbing. He must’ve had a lot of free time on his hands if he was just regurgitating/recycling the same old fraudulent data over and over.

  • Prof Henry December 11, 2015 at 2:04 am

    “The laboratory in which he worked has taken steps to prevent these kinds of errors from occurring again.” My (hopelessly naive) question is: why weren’t these steps already in place if indeed they could have stopped this from occurring?

    • Marco December 12, 2015 at 5:26 am

      Probably because you cannot prevent something that you do not know, or imagine, may happen.

  • Morty December 11, 2015 at 2:55 am

    I agree with Paul Brookes. The action taken by the VCU Office is unfortunately NOT usual practice. There are many other similar cases where the research institution simply ignore anonymous tips, even if the case is clear cut and involving many published papers.

    I am surprised by why these investigations are not publicly known in the US. We had a similar case in my country where the whole case was discussed in media after the home institution presented the case officially and informed the media regarding the details in the case. Openness in these cases is very important and will help to prevent misconduct in the long run.

  • scotus December 11, 2015 at 4:29 pm

    So presumably the VCU ORI is also aware of the PB Fisher concerns. Lets hope for a similarly speedy resolution.

  • fernandopessoa December 12, 2015 at 8:10 am

    “So presumably the VCU ORI is also aware of the PB Fisher concerns.”

    Yes, VCU informed about a year ago.

  • fernandopessoa December 12, 2015 at 8:14 am

    One of the authors on several of the PB Fisher papers under scrutiny at Pubpeer,
    H Boukerche, has had had a 2015 paper retracted.

    http://www.jbc.org/content/290/43/25847
    Second of 2 retractions reported below.
    http://retractionwatch.com/2015/11/06/authors-withdraw-two-papers-from-jbc-and-thats-all-we-know/

  • Anonymous December 21, 2015 at 9:11 am

    If indeed the same guy who committed this egregious, repeat-offender fraud is indeed working at a community college in Richmond (which is a possibility given the exact same name), I find that to be insulting that he’s taking up a job that someone with solid (and ethical) credentials could otherwise fill. Secondarily, he’s teaching students, and while no one can jump to conclusion that perhaps he’s superimposing his own set of flawed ethics onto the teaching or the distribution of grades in his class, his history of at least 11 ethical violations is concerning and disturbing.

  • fernandopessoa July 7, 2016 at 7:59 am

    I do not see the name Girija Dasmahapatra on this paper.

    https://pubpeer.com/publications/20065354

    Figure 4C.
    http://i.imgur.com/3NGeeBV.jpg

    J Biol Chem. 2010 Mar 26;285(13):10064-77. doi: 10.1074/jbc.M109.095208. Epub 2010 Jan 11.
    Histone deacetylase inhibitors activate NF-kappaB in human leukemia cells through an ATM/NEMO-related pathway.
    Rosato RR1, Kolla SS, Hock SK, Almenara JA, Patel A, Amin S, Atadja P, Fisher PB, Dent P, Grant S.
    Author information
    1Department of Medicine, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, Virginia 23298, USA.

  • fernandopessoa August 19, 2016 at 4:32 am

    2016 retraction of 2010 Steven Grant paper which does not have Girija Dasmahapatra on it.

    J Biol Chem. 2010 Mar 26;285(13):10064-77. doi: 10.1074/jbc.M109.095208. Epub 2010 Jan 11.
    Histone deacetylase inhibitors activate NF-kappaB in human leukemia cells through an ATM/NEMO-related pathway.
    Rosato RR1, Kolla SS, Hock SK, Almenara JA, Patel A, Amin S, Atadja P, Fisher PB, Dent P, Grant S.
    Author information
    1Department of Medicine, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, Virginia 23298, USA.
    Pubpeer: https://pubpeer.com/publications/20065354

    2016 retraction notice.
    http://www.jbc.org/content/291/34/17535

    This article has been withdrawn by the authors. The image used to represent U937 cells treated without TBAP for 4 h in Fig. 4A was reused to represent U937/3.1EV cells treated with LBH for 4 h in Fig. 7B. In Fig. 4C, lanes 1 and 2 of the left pIKK-β/α panel were duplicated, lanes 1 and 3 of the right pIKK-β/α panel were duplicated, lanes 4 and5 of the left IKK-β/α panel were duplicated, and lanes 2–5 of the left actin panel were duplicated in lanes 2–5 of the right actin panel. The actin immunoblot in Fig. 6A was reused as the actin immunoblot in Fig. 7A. Part of the actin panels in Fig. 4C was reused as actin in Fig. 6B. In Fig. 6B, lanes 1 and 2 of the left actin panel were duplicated inlanes 2 and 3 of the right actin panel. In supplemental Fig. 1A, lane 3 of the actin immunoblot from Jurkat cells was reused as lane 1 of the actin immunoblot from HL-60 cells. In supplemental Fig. 3A, lanes 1 and 2 of the TRAF2 immunoblot were duplicated. The actin immunoblot from supplemental Fig. 4B was reused as the actin immunoblot in supplemental Fig. 5B.
    © 2016 by The American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Inc.

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