Research from the lab of Savio Woo, a leading U.S. gene therapy scientist, has come into question with the retraction by major journals of at least four of his articles.
The papers, which appeared in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the Journal of the National Cancer Institute and Human Gene Therapy, involve findings published between 2005 and 2009, address various aspect of gene therapy. Two of the articles boasted of potential breakthroughs, and even a possible cure, for diseases with extremely high rates of mortality.
The study in JNCI, for example, reported the finding of a genetically modified bacterium that showed promise for the treatment of pancreatic cancer, a particularly lethal malignancy, and other tumor types. Another, published in 2005 in PNAS, claimed to have discovered a possible cure for phenylketonuria, or PKU, in mice—a finding that was cited more than 30 times and trumpeted in the media.
In the world of scientific misconduct, it’s often worth keeping track of what happens to scientists whose papers were retracted because of falsified or otherwise fraudulent results.
Take the case of Hung-Shu Chang. Last week, the the federal Office of Research Integrity announced that it had closed its investigation into the scientist’s misdeeds. Chang was a visiting postdoctoral researcher from Taiwan who in 2005 had come to the renowned Skinner Laboratory at Washington State University to study the effects of endocrine disruptors — a class of compounds that includes BPA and which have been shown to disrupt the action of hormones — on sex cells.
Chang was accused of falsifying data in a 2006 paper in Endocrinology — later retracted — reporting the damaging effects of vinclozolin, a fungicide used to protect vineyards, on the genetic integrity of sperm cells.
Last month, we wrote about the retraction of a 2005 paper suggesting that some adult stem cells might give rise to cancer. That, of course, would be a problem if researchers tried treating heart disease and other conditions with them. The paper’s authors retracted it, however, when it became clear that instead of being transformed — that’s the scientific word for “became cancerous” — the cells had simply become contaminated and overgrown with tumor cells used in research.
Citing “authorship” issues, a parasitology journal has retracted a paper by a Kenyan scientist which showed that Limburger cheese and milk cream may be effective mosquito bait.
The paper, by Eunice Owino, of the University of Nairobi, was published online in Parasites & Vectors this June but retracted in late August after the editors quickly learned that Owino had neglected to list several other authors on her manuscript.
Yesterday we reported on a retraction in a European liver journal involving post-acceptance shenanigans by a group of German researchers including a father and son, Axel and Olav Gressner. Well, it turns out there’s a bit more there there.
Didier Samuel, editor-in-chief of the Journal of Hepatology, where the team’s letter to the editor was retracted, tells Retraction Watch he was contacted earlier this year by the University of Aachen. The university was investigating potential misconduct by Olav Gressner. The journal launched its own inquiry, leading to the retracted letter, Samuel says.
Work from a prolific father-son team of liver researchers in Germany has come under scrutiny after accusations that they falsified data in a 2009 letter to the editor that appeared in the Journal of Hepatology.
The letter, retracted in the September issue (after an online notice in June), referred to a 2008 article in the journal by Axel Gressner, his son Olav, and their colleagues at University Hospital in Aachen in which the authors reported that doses of caffeine might be an effective treatment for liver fibrosis, scarring of the organ that results from chronic ailments such as cirrhosis or hepatitis.
Epidemiologic evidence has suggested that people who drink coffee are somewhat protected from liver fibrosis—although some experts dispute the purported connection—and the German group claimed to have been among the first to find a plausible molecular mechanism for the link. Their November 2008 paper on the subject has been cited 16 times, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Science, a hefty number for just 22 months.
In their follow-up letter, they went a step further, stating that injecting rats with caffeine blocked the expression of a key protein associated with growth of connective tissue necessary for the formation of liver scars.
Aging & Mental Health “welcomes original contributions” to fill its pages.
Or not so original. Last November, the journal published a study by two California researchers which looked at the possible effects of post-traumatic stress disorder on physical well-being in older women – and found no evidence of such a link.
The authors of a 2005 Cancer Research paper that cast some doubt on the safety of a population of adult stem cells used frequently in research have retracted it. According to the retraction, in the August 15 issue of the journal:
Upon review of the data published in this article, the authors have been unable to reproduce some of the reported spontaneous transformation events and suspect the phenomenon is due to a cross-contamination artifact.