Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

Prominent researcher in Taiwan loses another paper for image duplication

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In November, a vice president at an institution in Taiwan retracted a hotly debated cancer paper from Nature Cell Biology, citing image problems including duplications. Now, the Journal of Biological Chemistry has done the same, again citing image duplications.

There are a few things to note about the latest retraction: One, the last author is again Kuo Min-liang — who holds an appointment at National Taiwan University (NTU), and is also a vice president at Kaohsiung Medical University in Taiwan. Kuo is currently facing allegations that he accepted bribes to add co-authors to his papers; NTU told us it is investigating the latest retraction in the Journal of Biological Chemistry, including Kuo.

The other notable feature of the retraction is the notice itself, which lists a remarkable number of duplicated images. Take a look:

This article has been withdrawn by authors Ming-Tsan Lin, I-Hsin Kuo, Cheng-Chi Chang, Chia-Yu Chu, Been-Ren Lin, and Min-Liang Kuo. The same images were used to represent different experimental conditions. In Fig. 1A, lanes 2 and 4 of the HIF-1α DNA gel were duplicated. The HIF-1α DNA gel from Fig. 1A was reused in Fig. 1E in the HIF-1α rCyr61 panel. The GAPDH DNA gel from Fig. 1A was reused in Fig. 1E as GAPDH rCyr61 and IGF-1 panels, Fig. 5A as GAPDH, and Fig. 6B as input, left panel. The HIF-1β immunoblot from Fig. 1A was reused in Fig. 1B as HIF-1β, AGS and TSGH panels, Fig. 1Das HIF-1β, N87 panel, Fig. 1F as HIF-1β, rCyr61 panel, and Fig. 3D as HIF-1β. The tubulin immunoblot from Fig. 1A was reused in Fig. 5B as tubulin, lower panel, and reused in Fig. 5E as tubulin, left panel. In Fig. 1C, lanes 1 and 2 of the HIF-1α immunoblot were reused in lanes 5 and 6. In Fig. 1D, the HIF-1α immunoblot from the N87 panel was reused in Fig. 1F in the HIF-1α IGF-1 panel. In Fig. 1E, lanes 2 and 3 of the HIF-1α DNA gel from the rCyr61 panel were duplicated in lanes 5 and 6 of the same panel. Also in Fig. 1E, the HIF-1α DNA gel from the CoCl2 panel was reused in the IGF-1 panel as HIF-1α. In Fig. 1F, lanes 4 and 5 were duplicated in the HIF-1β immunoblot from the CoCl2panel. The HIF-1β immunoblot from the IGF-1 panel in Fig. 1F was reused in Fig. 3A as tubulin. In Fig. 1G, lanes 1 and 2 of the tubulin immunoblot, left panel, was reused in lanes 3 and 4 of the same panel. In Fig. 2A, lanes 2 and 4 of the HIF-1α immunoblot and lanes 3 and 4 of the HIF-1β immunoblot from the CoCl2 panel were duplicated. In Fig. 2C, lanes 1 and 2 of the HIF-1β immunoblot were duplicated in lanes 4 and 5, lanes 7and 8, lanes 9 and 10, and lanes 11 and 12. Also, in the same panel, lanes 3 and 6 were duplicated. In Fig. 3A, lanes 4 and 5 of the HIF-1β immunoblot were duplicated. Also in the same figure, lane 1 of the p-AKT immunoblot was duplicated in lanes 3 and 5, and lane 2 of the AKT immunoblot was duplicated in lane 5. The AKT immunoblot from Fig. 3A was also reused in Fig. 3D as 4E-BP1. In Fig. 3B, lane 1 of the p-AKT immunoblot was reused in lanes 5 and 6, and lane 1 of the AKT immunoblot was reused in lane 6. In Fig. 3D, lane 1 of the HIF-1α immunoblot was reused in lane 6, and lane 1 of the p-p70S6K immunoblot was reused in lane 5. The graphs in Fig. 4A were duplicated. In Fig. 5A, lane 1 of the c-MET DNA gel was reused in lanes 5 and 6, and lane 2 of the same gel was reused in lane 4. Also in Fig. 5A, lanes 1–3 of the AMF gel were reused in lanes 4–6. In Fig. 5C, lane 1 of the PAI-1 DNA gel was reused in lane 2, and lane 1 of the GAPDH DNA gel was reused in lane 2. In Fig. 6A, lanes 1 and 4 of the tubulin immunoblot were duplicated. Lane 2 of the PAI-1 DNA gel from Fig. 6B, left panel, was reused in lanes 2and 3 of the PAI-1 DNA gel, right panel. In Fig. 6B, lanes 1 and 4 of the input DNA gel, right panel, were duplicated.

Involvement of hypoxia-inducing factor-1α-dependent plasminogen activator inhibitor-1 up-regulation in Cyr61/CCN1-induced gastric cancer cell invasion” has been cited 35 times since it was published in 2008, according to Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science, formerly part of Thomson Reuters.

The link to Kuo’s site at Kaohsiung Medical University no longer appears active; we’ve contacted Kuo and the university to learn more.

In the meantime, the Taipei Times has quoted Kuo denying accusations that he accepted money to add co-authors to his papers:

Kuo has [been] accused of accepting payments from NTU Hospital doctor Yen Men-luh (嚴孟祿) in exchange for letting other academics be listed as coauthors on papers written by his research team.

Kuo yesterday said that accusations against his old friend Yen caused Kuo “deeply felt pain,” and that Yen had lent him money to buy a home during an economic downturn.

Kuo said Yen had never used work coauthored with himself to forward his career, adding that he was unclear how the relationship could be seen as one of quid pro quo.

Kuo said he “has not forged research, has not been in hiding, has not sold papers and refused to be labeled guilty before an investigation,” adding that he is “very sorry for causing conflict in the academic community and wasting public resources.”

According to The China Post:

The Ministry of Science and Technology (科技部) warned…that Kuo could be stripped of all research rights if the ministry’s ethics committee proved his wrongdoing in the scandal.

If found guilty, Kuo may no longer apply for research funding and must return all subsidies previously provided by the ministry, an online statement read…There is no indication of an illegal motivation behind the money transactions between the two professors, the Education Ministry said on Tuesday, after it confirmed the transactions last week.

In November, an NTU spokesperson told us it was investigating the retraction of the Nature Cell Biology paper, including Kuo. More recently, the spokesperson said it was investigating the latest retraction:

The withdrawn JBC article by Lin et al. (2008) is currently under NTU investigation. The persons under investigation include Dr. Kuo and [first author Ming-Tsan Lin].

Lin is also the second to last author on the retracted Nature Cell Biology paper.

Kuo has several papers being questioned by PubPeer (including the latest JBC retraction), some of which include the current president of NTU, Pan-Chyr Yang, among the list of co-authors.

Hat tip: Morten Oksvold

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