University College London mitochondrial biologist resigns after three retractions for image fraud

Courtesy Nature Publishing Group

A biologist at University College London (UCL) has resigned his post and taken responsibility for “inappropriate figures manipulations” in three now-retracted papers.

Assegid Garedew, formerly a senior research investigator in Salvador Moncada‘s group, stepped down earlier this summer in the midst of an investigation that should be completed soon, Moncada tells Retraction Watch.

The three retraction notices for papers by Garedew and colleagues are all similar.

From Cell Metabolism: “Mitochondrial Dynamics, Biogenesis, and Function Are Coordinated with the Cell Cycle by APC/CCDH1“, cited once, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge:

This article has been retracted: please see Elsevier Policy on Article Withdrawal (http://www.elsevier.com/locate/withdrawalpolicy).This article has been retracted at the request of the Authors.We have recently identified errors affecting several figure panels in Figures 4, 5, and S4, in which control data were processed inappropriately such that the figure panels do not accurately report the original data. While the conclusions reached in this paper may be sound, given the circumstances, the most responsible course of action is to retract the paper. A.G. regrets the inappropriate figure manipulations, of which his coauthors were completely unaware. We sincerely apologize to the scientific community for any confusion or adverse consequences resulting from the publication of these data.

From the Journal of Cell Science: “Mitochondrial dysfunction and HIF1α stabilization in inflammation,” a paper cited eight times:

The authors wish to retract the above paper. We have recently identified errors affecting certain figure panels in Fig. 5 in which control data were processed inappropriately such that the figure panels do not accurately report the original data. The misuse and re-use of western blot bands violates the editorial policy of Journal of Cell Science, and so we must retract this article. A. G. regrets the inappropriate figure manipulations, of which his co-author was completely unaware.

We sincerely apologize to the scientific community for any confusion or adverse consequences resulting from the publication of these data.

From Cell Death and Diffrentiation: “Activated macrophages utilize glycolytic ATP to maintain mitochondrial membrane potential and prevent apoptotic cell death,” cited 17 times:

The authors wish to retract the above paper. We have recently identified errors affecting certain panels in Figure 6, in which data were processed in such a way that the figure panels do not reflect the original data. AG regrets the inappropriate figure manipulations, of which his co-authors were completely unaware. Although we believe that the conclusions reached in this paper are essentially sound, we feel that the most responsible course of action is to retract the paper. We sincerely apologize to the scientific community for any confusion or adverse consequences resulting from the publication of these data.

Moncada tells us:

There has been an investigation at UCL which is about to be completed. It indicates that the person solely responsible for the fraud leading to the retraction of the three papers is Dr Garedew. He has admitted this and resigned as a senior research investigator in my group on the 19th June. We do not expect to retract any other paper from this laboratory since Dr Garedew was not involved in any of the other research projects.

10 thoughts on “University College London mitochondrial biologist resigns after three retractions for image fraud”

  1. Shit! I almost offered this guy a job a few years ago. Dodged a bullet there! He trained with Erich Gnaiger, at the University of Innsbruck, and worked for a number of years at Gnaiger’s company, Oroboros AT, so his earlier work there might be worth looking into.

  2. Is it all about reuse of western blot bands? I looked at the Cell Metabolism paper and nothing jumped out at me – having RETRACTION stamped over the figures didn’t help. Anyone have specifics

    “We have recently identified errors affecting several figure panels in Figures 4, 5, and S4, in which control data were processed inappropriately ” This suggests, assuming we are talking about Westerns, reuse of the Actin bands? A heavy price to pay – pour encourager les autres

    1. No, not just westerns. In the Cell Metabolism paper, Figure 1 top left panel (picture of a cell at T minus 72 hrs) is the same image as bottom left (picture of a cell at 9 hrs). They just highlighted a different part of the image, but the baseline cell image in the background is the same one

      In the other 2 cases, its WB reuse. For the JCS paper, Fig 5 has re-use of tubulin blots, offset by 1 or 2 lanes (left panel of Fig. 5, take the tubulin blot at 0h, move it one to the right, to get the blot at 0.5hr., move it one to the left, to get the blot at 6hr.) In the CDD paper, panel 6g, one of the bands in the tubulin blot has a curved cut-line above it, and the same curt-line appears in one of the bands of the ATPase blot too. Also, the tubulin panel appears empty in the mitochodnrial sample, but that’s because there’s nothing there – there’s a clear splicing in of an empty box. Same thing in Fig. 6h.

      This poor fellow only has 8 papers on Pub-Med, of which 3 are these retraction notices, so that’s 5 actual papers, 3 of them now retracted. I wonder what will become of the other 2?

  3. @littlegreyrabbit
    Obvious reuse of Actin bands, look at figure 6A (which was not reported by the way, but it is not covered by the red Retracted text all over it so it’s esy to spot) of the Cell Metabolism paper. Actin bands are identical between several conditions (Proliferating control, Serum starved, 24hr serum refeeding).

  4. No winners here of course.

    One presumes the investigation showed that the reason why control bands and other image elements were re-used was actually that these parts of the experiments did not actually exist. And if there is fabrication of images, there may well be fabrication elsewhere, hence the retractions without necessarily everything being clear. A similar consensus came out of the Wagers / Harvard lab issue we heard about last week.

    While this is appropriate, it throws into sharp relief the attempts by certain other labs to rebrand the same process as ‘error’ or ‘bizarre behaviour’. We’ve heard recently about the cases of serial image re-use in the Karin, Katiyar and Roman-Gomez labs, and at no stage have the senior authors, institutions or journals suggested that this could be misconduct, or discussed any investigation. Instead we hear about ‘clerical errors’ and the like.

    I’ve also read RW posts essentially saying that ‘they got sloppy with the controls’.

    Image re-use is important not so much for the specific image problems, but because it is a specific, externally visible marker of research fraud. Labs, institutions and journals which correct papers containing image re-use are (broadly speaking) turning a blind eye to probable fraud. While it is true that there are occasional mistakes in image preparation, the extent of the problems in these other labs indicates a very high probability of fraud.

    1. I wouldn’t call it sloppiness, but it might be laziness and not an indicator of a desire to deceive or present misleading conclusions.

      I am not sure what is driving it but I assume that it might just be a short-cut to make their loadings look more equal than they actually were – perhaps couldn’t be bothered to do a protein quantification before running their gels. But the resulting Westerns, although they may have looked more messy or more equivocal, might have still have supported their conclusions.

      After all, if there was a commitment to fraud it would have been very easy to avoid detection, just do a couple of big pooled protein preps and then load an equal amount onto a series of gels and then you have a series of controls enough for 4 or 5 papers.

      I am not saying that reuse should be overlooked, obviously retraction is inevitable, but just to keep some perspective as to what it may represent. Of course, it may be the paper is a complete fabrication from top to bottom.

  5. well said, amw. It depends on the labs where this kind of act has occurred. In addition to the cases you have mentioned, see how Gautam Sethi has escaped from BB Aggrawal incident and recently my contacts informed me that he received an outstanding researcher award by the National University of Singapore. Chendil Damodaran and Mansoor Ahmed – Ahmed is a Grant Adminstrator now at NCI/NIH.

  6. Thanks Ressci. When seeing a list of such people presented like this, it does appear that people appear to get away with research fraud.

    However I am also sure that the long-term effect of conducting research fraud is deeply negative at a personal level. These people, no matter how ‘successful’, never again experience the satisfactions that one can (if lucky) obtain from science: the opening up of new scientific vistas, the sense of teamwork that develops during a research project etc.. No matter how many publications they fabricate, they are essentially lost in the scientific wilderness (well described in Robert L. Park’s “Voodoo Science: The Road from Foolishness to Fraud”).

    What actually gets me more is the institutions and journals who cover up these issues. The institutions because by failing to investigate, they just expose more junior staff from working in such environments (an unforgiveable sin in my view). And the journals because the damage these unretracted articles do, in terms of wasting other people’s money and time, is literally incalculable. Institutions who (perhaps unknowingly) take on people like Sethi, and give them outstanding researcher awards (presumably on the basis of publication metrics) are actually probably the biggest losers – one guy like this can destroy a department.

    The MD Anderson Cancer Centre (with ORI involvement) is still to my knowledge investigating Aggarwal – although if lawyers have been brought in this could take a while – so I don’t think the wheels of justice have stopped yet…

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