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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