A Wnt-er’s tale: Blood pulls second signaling paper from Spanish scientists over image fakery

Blood has pulled a paper 2007 paper from a group of Spanish researchers, one of whom appears to have been manipulating images.

The group’s work became the focus of expressions of concern from the Journal of Clinical Oncology this spring and in 2010.

The article, “Epigenetic regulation of Wnt-signaling pathway in acute lymphoblastic leukemia,” purported to show “a role of abnormal Wnt signaling in ALL and establish a group of patients with a significantly worse prognosis (methylated group)” and earned a commentary on the significance of the findings.

But as the notice explains, the first author lifted and manipulated a figure from a previously published article:

The authors wish to retract the 15 April 2007 paper cited above, prepublished on 5 December 2006. Figure 2A in the original manuscript was inappropriately reproduced from a previously published paper, namely Battagli C, Uzzo RG, Dulaimi E, Ibanez de Caceres I, Krassenstein R, Al-Saleem T, Greenberg RE, Cairns P. Promoter hypermethylation of tumor suppressor genes in urine from kidney cancer patients. Cancer Res. 2003;63(24):8695-8699. The image was provided by Dr. Román-Gómez who was the author solely responsible for manipulation of the figure. None of the other authors were involved in or were aware of these events. The rest of the results and the conclusions of the manuscript are correct, however the article is retracted as a whole. The authors deeply regret this event and apologize to the readers, reviewers, and editors for publishing this image.

Here’s the figure in question.

The paper has been cited 91 times, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge. Cynthia Dunbar, editor of Blood, said (Jose) Román-Gómez was a familiar name to the journal:

This author has done this once before. We retracted another paper a few years ago.  The institution and other senior authors went through all the papers that involved this author and notified us. Very hard to detect when steal from random other papers!  But as far as we can tell at BLOOD this is the end of it. 

The first retraction appeared in 2009 — before Retraction Watch was born — and referred to a 2004 paper, “Promoter hypermethylation of cancer-related genes: a strong independent prognostic factor in acute lymphoblastic leukemia”:

The authors retract the October 15, 2004, paper cited above. Figure 1 in that paper was inappropriately reproduced from a previously published paper, namely Dong SM, Kim HS, Rha SH, Sidransky D. Promoter hypermethylation of multiple genes in carcinoma of the uterine cervix. Clin Cancer Res. 2001;7:1982–1986.

We found 58 citations on Medline for Román-Gómez, whose webpage at University Hospital of Cordoba lists his major accomplishments as having

discovered the role of the epigenetic silencing of cancer-related genes and microRNAs in the pathogenesis and prognosis of acute lymphoblastic leukemia and the role of the retrotransposable elements hypomethylation in the progression of hematological malignancies.

We’ve tried contacting Román-Gómez for comment, and will update with anything we hear back.

11 thoughts on “A Wnt-er’s tale: Blood pulls second signaling paper from Spanish scientists over image fakery”

  1. Something still doesn’t make sense here. The institution and senior authors have apparently concluded that ‘The rest of the results and the conclusions of the manuscript are correct, however the article is retracted as a whole.’

    They seems to be saying that they actually did all this work,but that Roman-Gomez happened to steal an unrelated image from another paper and reproduce it in his article? It seems to me that there is still a significant cover-up here. In the first RW posting on this group, we collected at least 8 papers from this group with problems. Most remain unretracted, for example:

    Roman-Gomez J, et al. J Clin Oncol. 2005 Oct 1;23(28):7043-9 and
    Agirre X, et al. ASPP1, Oncogene. 2006 Mar 23;25(13):1862-70
    both stole all or parts of a Figure from Takahashi T, et al. Clin Cancer Res. 2004 Sep 15;10(18 Pt 1):6126-33. The authors were able to correct the JCO paper with a new version of the offending figure in 2010, a fact which now seems astonishing given what we know about Roman-Gomez now. Nothing has been done about the Oncogene paper.

    Roman-Gomez J, et al. J Clin Oncol. 2003 Apr 15;21(8):1472-9 showed duplication internally in Figure 1. The authors submitted a new Figure claiming the result was the same. However to their credit this time JCO maintained their expression of concern this time (thereby indicating that an investigation is necessary).

    Cordoba probably realised that it had to do something – but to me their agenda is to minimise the problem and blame this on the bizarre behaviour of a single rogue scientist in a single institution. In fact this lab has been engaging in fraud for many years and there seems no way this could have been Roman-Gomez acting alone – other authors must have been aware of the problem at the time, as well as collaborators from University of Navarra which seems to be leading the collaborations now.

    I guess in a world corrupted to a major degree by scientific fraud, one can look at this and say the glass is half full – at least SOMETHING has happened, and the field will now know that this group is not to be trusted. But an independent investigation that examines all these papers, and tells us what is valid and what isn’t, would be the proper way to go.

  2. In this case the editor (person not from Spain) did the right thing, while in other cases where the authors (also from Spain) reproduce figures from their earlier publications (also without any attribution) still have their papers NOT retracted, may be since the editors of two journals where the papers appear happen to be also from Spain and for some reason REFUSE to do the right thing.

    Transparency Index based just on the number of retractions from the total number of published papers would present the later journals in better light, while in reality the former journal deserves better ranking.

    See my comments here http://www.retractionwatch.com/transparencyindex/

    1. Although I am deeply depressed about the way journals handle allegations or even (as here) clear evidence of fraud staring everyone in the face, the main enemy is not conspiracy (e.g. on national lines as suggested) but simply apathy and inertia. It’s amazing how scientists who are perfectly able to undertake meticulous examination of scientific data in one context suddenly become incapable when the result looks like it is going to open up a huge can of worms. No one wants the extra work and stress of examining these papers and acting on the results. Furthermore, few have any real experience of how to even structure an assertive letter to authors of clearly fraudulent work.

      Still, Roman-Gomez et al. are providing quite a few editors with a free introductory course into research misconduct…

      1. I’d say that the main enemy is the GREED of authors/editors/publishers/institutions
        to get (by deception) more public money, full stop.

        The RELUCTANCE of editors/publishers/institutions and even COPE to do the right thing leads to growing number of cases of misconduct. This:
        (i) affects adversely the health and even the life of millions of people around the world;
        (ii) results in misallocation of billions of hard-earned tax-payers’ dollars; and
        (iii) ultimately erodes public trust in science.

        May be Transparency Index is the right answer to purify the Academia.

    1. Yes, these authors are VERY good at re-using.
      Identical figures (drawings, not images) appear in multiple publications, always without any attribution, and always with different titles, thus deceiving the readers that new and original works have been created.

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