Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

Two more retractions for stem cell researcher appealing her dismissal

with 4 comments

Susana Gonzalez

Susana Gonzalez, a rising star in stem cell research, has had a rough year.

In addition to being fired from her former research institute (which she is now appealing), one of her grants (totaling nearly 2 million Euros) was suspended. Most recently, she has received two new retractions in Nature Communications over figure duplications and missing raw data. By our count, she has a total of three retractions.

Both of the new notices say the papers contained figures duplicated in other papers by Gonzalez, and neither includes Gonzalez among the list of co-authors who agreed to the retraction.

Gonzalez was dismissed from her position at the National Center for Cardiovascular Research (CNIC) in Spain last February over allegations of misconduct. According to the head of basic research at CNIC, Gonzalez is still embroiled in a legal battle with the Center over her dismissal. Vicente Andrés could not go into detail because of the ongoing litigation, but he told us:

I can only confirm that the court has decided in favor of CNIC and upheld the sacking of Dr. Gonzalez, but the decision is not final and is being appealed.

The legal proceedings appear to have prompted Gonzalez’s first retraction of a 2012 paper, which we reported last month, after Cell Cycle became “aware of certain irregularities” in several figures, according to the notice:

We have been advised that, during the course of an internal inquiry and subsequent legal proceedings, corresponding author Dr. Susana Gonzalez was not able to provide original raw data or laboratory notes for any of the experiments represented in these figures to explain or justify the results reported in the article.

Similar concerns with image duplication and missing raw data have continued to plague Gonzalez in these two new retractions in Nature Communications. Antonio Herrera-Merchan, a former postdoctoral researcher in Gonzalez’s lab at CNIC who co-authored the Cell Cycle paper and one of the two newly retracted papers in Nature Communications, told us he does not know what happened to the raw data after he left the lab at the end of 2013 for a new position:

I don’t know why Susana was unable to supply raw data. This is a question for her.

All the experiments that I performed, original data and lab note, were [left] in CNIC.

Herrera-Merchan described how the lab worked while he was there, specifically how Gonzalez designed experiments and stored data (we translated his e-mail from Spanish to English using One Hour Translation):

Susana and I met to discuss how to do the experiments. I did them and the data were stored in general folders in each computer (next to the cytometer, to the qPCR…) and the CNIC (Spanish National Center for Cardiovascular Research) specifically connected to each laboratory and made back-up copies every 24 hours. Both Susana and I had access from the computer we each had in our workplace to these folders. I also had a copy in the computer that the CNIC provided in my workplace of all the data produced.

I also took notes and kept my results in laboratory notebooks.

I left both these data and the laboratory notebooks in the CNIC when I left. The CNIC also prevented me from taking these documents.

Herrera-Merchan, who also spoke to El Pais about his role in revealing details of the case, left the lab for a new position at the University of Granada at the beginning of 2014. He added that he played no role in writing or preparing the papers:

Regarding the editing, writing and design of the articles, I’ve never been involved in the editing, writing or selection of images, nor have I ever been sent a draft for an article for review prior to sending it to the journal.

We emailed Gonzalez, but did not hear back. We asked Jose F. de Celis, head of the Centre for Molecular Biology “Severo Ochoa” (CBMSO), where Gonzalez currently works, if he had any updates since we last spoke to him in February. He told us:

I do not have any additional information. Her position is at CBMSO and she is on sick leave.

Here’s the retraction notice for “Ectopic expression of the histone methyltransferase Ezh2 in haematopoietic stem cells causes myeloproliferative disease” published in 2012 and cited 67 times, according to Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science, formerly part of Thomson Reuters:

We the authors are retracting this Article as it has come to our attention that there has been inappropriate duplication of images between different figures of the published paper, and between figures in the paper and those in work previously published by the corresponding author (Arranz et al., 2012, Herrera-Merchan et al., 2010). The figure panels affected are Figs 2c, 3d, 4e, 5g, 7a, Supplementary Figs 2b, 3b and 5d. The corresponding author, S. Gonzalez, was unable to supply a complete set of raw data on which the Article is based. The Centro Nacional de Investigaciones Cardiovasculares Carlos III and the first author A. Herrera-Merchan, together with the co-authors L. Arranz, J.M. Ligos, A. de Molina and O. Dominguez, agree with retraction of the Article.

Arranz, L. et al. Bmi1 is critical to prevent Ikaros-mediated lymphoid priming in hematopoietic stem cells. Cell Cycle 11, 65–78 (2012).

Herrera-Merchan, A. et al. miR-33-mediated downregulation of p53 controls hematopoietic stem cell self-renewal. Cell Cycle 9, 3297–3305 (2010).

Here’s the retraction notice for “Bmi1 limits dilated cardiomyopathy and heart failure by inhibiting cardiac senescence” published in 2015 and cited five times:

We the authors are retracting this Article as it has come to our attention that there has been inappropriate duplication of images between different figures of the published paper, and between figures in the paper and those in work previously published by the corresponding author (Hidalgo, I. et al. 2012). The figure panels affected are Figure 1d, Figure 3c, Figure 4e, Figures 6a, g, and Supplementary Figure 1b. The corresponding author, S. Gonzalez, was unable to supply a complete set of raw data on which the Article is based. The Centro Nacional de Investigaciones Cardiovasculares Carlos III and the first author I. Gonzalez-Valdes, together with the co-authors I. Hidalgo, A. Bujarrabal, E. Lara-Pezzi, L. Padron-Barthe, P. Garcia-Pavia, Pablo Gómez-del Arco, J.M. Redondo, J.M. Ruiz-Cabello, L.J. Jimenez-Borreguero, J.A. Enriquez, J.L. de la Pompa, and A. Hidalgo, agree with retraction of the Article.

Hidalgo, I. et al. Ezh1 is required for hematopoietic stem cell maintenance and prevents senescence-like cell cycle arrest. Cell Stem Cell 11, 649–662 (2012).

Several of Gonzalez’s other papers have been questioned on PubPeer. Leonid Schneider has also covered Gonzalez’s retractions and legal battle.

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Comments
  • fernandopessoa March 17, 2017 at 9:38 am

    2 earlier papers which contain problematic data.

    1. p73α Regulation by Chk1 in Response to DNA Damage
    Susana Gonzalez1, Carol Prives2 and Carlos Cordon-Cardo1,*
    Mol Cell Biol 23:8161.
    1Division of Molecular Pathology, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, New York, New York 10021
    2Department of Biological Sciences, Columbia University, New York, New York 10027

    http://mcb.asm.org/content/23/22/8161.long

    https://pubpeer.com/publications/4737062638FE89F825E20117DEAEAA#fb118217

    Figure 2A. http://i.imgur.com/Ztszicg.jpg

    Figure 2. http://i.imgur.com/g32uYEi.jpg

    Figure 3A and 3B http://i.imgur.com/IAMmE2v.jpg

    Figure 3D. http://i.imgur.com/msbCXvv.jpg

    Figure 4A. http://i.imgur.com/5pNUWak.jpg

    Figure 5D. http://i.imgur.com/egI3OBp.jpg

    Figure 1D Mol Cell biol 23:8161 and figure 5A Cancer Res 65:2186.

    2. p73β-Mediated Apoptosis Requires p57kip2 Induction and IEX-1 Inhibition
    Susana Gonzalez, Manuel M. Perez-Perez, Eva Hernando, Manuel Serrano and Carlos Cordon-Cardo
    Cancer Res 65:2186.
    http://cancerres.aacrjournals.org/content/65/6/2186

    Figure 3A. http://i.imgur.com/b6bHhuD.jpg

    Figure 2. http://i.imgur.com/JMAo9sF.jpg

    Figure 4A. http://i.imgur.com/Xb0QhoP.png

    Figure 4A and 5A. http://i.imgur.com/F7lHAiF.jpg

    Figure 1D Mol Cell biol 23:8161 and figure 5A Cancer Res 65:2186.

  • Dave Fernig March 17, 2017 at 10:14 am

    What Herrera-Mercha describes is unusual to say the least. The culture of backing data up is good, but then these must be available, but apparently they are not. How does this work?

    In addition the secrecy and control over writing the paper is not the norm – surely those involved in the work should have been involved in at least editing the draft manuscript, if not contributing outright to writing it – how else are they meant to develop their skills. So this aspect demonstrates poor mentorship on the part of the PI. Worse, how can one be an author if one has not been involved in the process, from data analysis through to final edit? I suspect there may be more to come here.

    • Turingsbrain March 19, 2017 at 8:38 pm

      I have a big problem with the statement that Herrera-Mercha supposedly never read the manuscript prior to submission. This admission alone would already warrant a retraction, as the submission procedure clearly requires consent of all co-authors to the submitted manuscript. How can you give that if you never read it?

    • PJTV March 20, 2017 at 4:22 pm

      Very much agreed. Herrera-Mercha is an author, but apparently should not have been author, although he does not state it like that. It reminds of a few retractions ago, where Sylvain Bernes quotes ICMJE recommendations that authorship means:

      “[the] agreement to be accountable for all aspects of the work in ensuring that questions related to the accuracy or integrity of any part of the work are appropriately investigated and resolved.”

      Obviously, that was not the case here, and one can wonder whether the laboratories involved have a questionable scientific culture.

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