Update on Small retraction: Co-author says failed follow-up led to detection of tech’s fraud

We have a little more information on the lab-tech case out of the University of Chicago that we reported on last week. A brief summary: The journal Small retracted a 2007 paper on a method of producing insulin-secreting cells after one of the co-authors, a technician named Matthew Connors, was found to have fabricated a key figure. Connors has had a long career as a lab tech and his name has appeared on several published articles.

Reached by e-mail, Milan Mrksich, a chemistry professor at Chicago and a co-author of the retracted paper– as well as an investigator for the Howard Hughes Medical Institute — told us that the fraud surfaced during follow-up research:

A postdoc was having trouble reproducing the experiment. That started a process that ultimately led us to believe that the tech had fabricated data. We then notified the appropriate university officials and they appointed a committee to investigate the matter.

Although Mrksich said the group stands by the data supporting other aspects of the paper,

We don’t claim that the overall integrity of the approach is intact. Rather, we make clear that the data reported in Figure 6 (which reports that encapsulated islets can respond to glucose by releasing insulin) is not reliable and it was for that reason that we decided to retract the paper. But the data in the other figures (which show that the selective withdrawal method together with photopolymerizable materials could be used to encapsulate islets) are still valid and were done without the participation of Mr. Connors.

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