Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

Prominent physicist loses paper over data falsification

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A paper by a promising nanotechnologist has been retracted for data falsification.

Dmitri Lapotko, a Belarusian researcher with a background in laser weaponry, made a name for himself at Rice University in Houston, where he studied the use of nanotechnology to diagnose and treat human diseases. That work earned him significant press coverage, including stories in the New York Times and Science.

But that nanobubble may be bursting. The journal Theranostics has retracted a 2011 paper on which Lapotko is the last and corresponding author, citing questions over data falsification. What’s more, another journal has warned readers there may be a problem with a figure in a 2012 paper on which Lapotko is listed as last author.

Lapotko has since left Rice for Masimo Corp., a developer of monitoring devices for patients in the operating room.

According to the Theranostics notice:

The Editor-In-Chief of Theranostics, in consultation and agreement with the Research Integrity Officer of Rice University, retracts the article “Tunable Plasmonic Nanoprobes for Theranostics of Prostate Cancer” [1] on the basis of questions related to data falsification of several figures of the article. The questions about the falsified data also raise questions about the conclusions within the paper.

The language about “questions related to data falsification” isn’t entirely clear, so we asked a representative of Rice to explain further. That made things even more opaque, as the official, B.J. Almond, would not confirm the existence of any misconduct investigation:

Regarding your email about the retraction of the paper “Tunable Plasmonic Nanoprobes for Theranostics of Prostate Cancer,” Rice University’s investigations of research misconduct are confidential. We do not comment on the existence or nature of a specific investigation, except to communicate directly to parties who are affected by the investigation.

The 2011 paper has been cited 42 times, according to Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science, formerly part of Thomson Reuters.

Lapotko’s work drew the attention of the New York Times, which in 2014 wrote about the potential of his research to “revolutionize malaria diagnosis.” And last year, Science covered his work on “exploding nanobubbles.”

Lapotko has received more than $1.1 million in funding from the U.S. National Institutes of Health between 2010 and 2013 for his work on nanobubbles, and other federal funding, as well.

That was then. Threads on PubPeer have since raised questions about other articles by Lapotko.

A 2012 paper by Lapotko and colleagues in Langmuir has been tagged with an expression of concern for potential image problems:

A reader recently brought concerns to the attention of the Editors of Langmuir related to one of the figures in this article. This matter is currently under investigation and this expression of concern will continue to be associated with the article until the investigation is concluded.

In 2016, Nanomedicine issued a correction for a 2009 article by the researcher, noting an additional study that was reproduced in a figure.

And in one of the more intriguing statements we’ve seen, in 2015 the Journal of Surgical Research corrected a 2011 paper on which Lapotko was a co-author:

In the article titled “Selective and Self-Guided Micro-Ablation of Tissue with Plasmonic Nanobubbles” (2011, 166, e3–e13), Figure 4D (showing the null time-response to a laser pulse) was mistakenly plotted from an invalid data set. The mistake was caused by the null (no plasmonic nanobubble signal) nature of the time-response. This figure was used only to illustrate the experiment and did not support any of the article’s results or conclusions. To correct the mistake, this figure is being replaced with the valid time-response obtained in the same experiments under the same conditions as the original figure.

Lapotko did not return an email seeking comment on his studies and we could not reach him by phone at the company. Lapotko has at least eight patents based on his work, according to this bio in The Lancet.

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