Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

Cancer researcher earns 3 more retractions following NIH misconduct investigation

with 4 comments

A researcher formerly based at the National Cancer Institute has earned three new retractions following an investigation that found she committed misconduct.

In May of last year, Stephanie Watkins, who now works at Loyola Medicineearned one two retraction, which mentions a review by an investigation committee at the National Institutes of Health. Two of the new notes, published in Cancer Research, mention the review as well, and cite data falsification in a figure as the reason for retraction. Watkins is the only author that did not agree to those retractions.

There may be more changes to the literature — an editor at another cancer journal told us the journal is awaiting a decision from the Office of Research Integrity before deciding what to do with a paper by Watkins, given that she does not agree with the misconduct charges.

We’ll start with a retraction note from Cancer Research:

The editors and authors retract the article titled “Immunity to Murine Prostatic Tumors: Continuous Provision of T-Cell Help Prevents CD8 T-Cell Tolerance and Activates Tumor-Infiltrating Dendritic Cells,” which was published in the August 1, 2009 issue of Cancer Research (1), based on the findings of data falsification regarding Fig. 6A. Following review by an NIH investigation committee, NIH found the author Stephanie Watkins was the sole individual responsible for the instances of research misconduct. None of the other authors were aware of the misconduct.

The paper has been cited 42 times, according to Thomson Reuters Web of Science.

Here’s the other retraction note from Cancer Research:

The editors and authors retract the article titled “High-Avidity T Cells Are Preferentially Tolerized in the Tumor Microenvironment,” which was published in the January 15, 2013 issue of Cancer Research (1), based on the findings of data falsification regarding Fig. 5A. Following review by an NIH investigation committee, NIH found the author Stephanie Watkins was the sole individual responsible for the instances of research misconduct. None of the other authors were aware of the misconduct.

That paper has been cited 17 times.

Next, a shorter retraction note for “Isolation of Immune Cells from Primary Tumors,” a protocol published on Jove:

This article, Isolation of Immune Cells from Primary Tumors, has been retracted at the request of the corresponding author due to concerns regarding the validity of the data presented in the article.

That protocol has been cited twice.

On PubPeer, commenters point out that some of Watkins’s other papers cite the now-retracted work, and suggest that others contain duplication.

We reached out to a few editors of the journals in which those papers appear. OncoImmunology editor Lorenzo Galluzzi told us that they were “investigating this matter.” Cancer Immunology, Immunotherapy editor S. Ostrand-Rosenberg told us that the journal was waiting to make a decision on the paper,”Immune suppression in the tumor microenvironment: a role for dendritic cell-mediated tolerization of T cells,” which cites some of the now-retracted work:

Our understanding of the situation is that Dr. [Watkins’s] case has gone through the NCI intramural review process, but has not as yet been reviewed by the NIH Office of Research Integrity.  Since Dr. [Watkins] refutes the charges, we feel it is only appropriate/fair for her case to receive a full review before we make a decision.

Arthur A. Hurwitz at the Frederick National Laboratory for Cancer Research, the last author on all three retracted publications, declined to comment, and passed our email on to a NIH Agency Intramural Research Integrity Officer, who declined to comment as well.

We reached out to Watkins on Facebook, and to the editor of Cancer Research.

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Comments
  • Dave Fernig April 12, 2016 at 10:00 am

    Reasonable retraction notices for Cancer Res. though not for JOVE, but when are other authors and institutions going to provide the transparency that should be integral to science? Perhaps alongside the unhelpful retraction notice, another tag is required, which you could simply call “no comment”! That alone says a lot…

  • DTX April 12, 2016 at 4:27 pm

    It’s interesting that Stephanie’s publications listed on Loyola’s website have no dates, volume, or page numbers. https://www.loyolamedicine.org/doctor/stephanie-watkins

    I’ve never seen that before. Maybe it’s a Loyola approach… It definitely helps keep the retractions obscured.

    • Gary April 13, 2016 at 3:42 am

      Yes – not even the year they were published.

  • MN April 13, 2016 at 10:45 am

    It is interesting how there are now three manuscripts retracted with three first authors yet the sole author responsible is Watkins. How is that possible? Isn’t anyone else looking at the primary/raw data when a paper is being written and submitted for publication? If it is true there is only a single author responsible for the alleged misconduct, why weren’t the figures replaced and that author removed. Innocent people are being harmed by this by having a retracted paper on their CV. Maybe the senior author and the NIH should be considering the careers of those not involved when making such decisions.

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