One of the biggest stories so far out of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) meeting that just ended in Chicago was that of T-DM1, which, according to Ivan’s Reuters colleagues, “extended the length of time breast cancer patients lived without their disease getting worse.” (The news was even the subject of an embargo break.)
“We’ve envisioned a world where cancer treatment would kill the cancer and not hurt the patient,” Dr. Kimberly L. Blackwell, a professor of medicine at the Duke Cancer Institute and the lead investigator in the trial, said in an interview. “And this drug does that.”
Blackwell, as Duke watchdog DukeCheck noted over the weekend, published two studies with Anil Potti, the now-former Duke oncologist who has retracted or corrected 17 papers after resigning in the midst of an investigation into his work. Those two studies — one in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, the other in PLoS Medicine — have not been retracted, but both have been the subject of significant corrections.
It didn’t look to us as though Potti was involved in the T-DM1 work, and Blackwell confirmed that was the case. She also confirmed that the now-corrected papers she co-authored with Potti are not related to the T-DM1 work.
We want to be clear: Despite the fact that work by Blackwell and Potti has been found to have flaws, that doesn’t mean everything Blackwell ever works on needs to be scrutinized more carefully, forever. But we think it’s relevant to note the association, and that she was the point person quoted in a press release saying very positive things about one of the now-corrected papers. A selection:
“The breast tumors that arose in younger women shared a common biology, and this discovery was truly remarkable,” Blackwell said. “The genes that regulate things like immune function, oxygen supply and mutations that we know are related to breast cancer, such as BRCA1, were preferentially expressed in the tumors taken from younger women, but when we compared younger women’s tumors to older women’s tumors, we found those same gene sets were not expressed in the ’older’ tumors.”
We also asked Blackwell if, given all of the issues with Potti’s work, whether oncology research at Duke, or Blackwell’s work in particular, was scrutinized more closely before being made public. She tells Retraction Watch:
Duke has learned a great deal from the issues raised by the Potti situation and we now have developed better research oversight that is benefitting Duke researchers and our peers.