New Mexico obstetrics researcher violated research subject protocols: Retraction notice

gynoncLaurence Cole, an obstetrics researcher at the University of New Mexico, made an appearance on this blog in November 2011 after the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology published a remarkably heavy-handed retraction of one of his papers.

Shortly after, we learned that the retraction was preceded by a strongly-worded letter from an attorney representing a company that had been miffed by the content of Cole’s article (the issue involved the effectiveness of commercially-available pregnancy tests, and Cole’s failure to adequately disclose a past relationship with the aggrieved company’s competitor). That letter read, in part:

Publication of this flawed paper holds the potential to inflict substantial harm on SPD [Swiss Precision Diagnostics]. We therefore demand that AJOG refrain from publishing the print version of the paper, that it cease publication in electronic form and that it publish a retraction. In the event that time constraints limit your ability to take any of these steps, we demand that AJOG accompany the publication of the paper with this letter. Any subsequent effort to remedy the reputational damage from this improvident publication is unlikely to be effective.

The editors denied that the legal threat had forced the retraction.

Cole’s name has popped up again, this time in a retraction notice in the journal Gynecologic Oncology. The notice involves an April 2012 paper Cole wrote titled “Minimally-aggressive gestational trophoblastic neoplasms.” According to the notice:

This article has been retracted at the request of the Editor-in-Chief. This article is retracted following an internal investigation by the University of New Mexico (UNM). UNM determined and confirmed that there were policy violations by the corresponding author concerning human research subjects and biological samples. We apologize to the readers for any inconvenience.

The journal editor, Beth Karlan, of UCLA, declined to speak with us, and her assistant said she had been advised by Elsevier, which publishes Gynecologic Oncology, not to discuss the case and let the notice speak for itself. Which is a pity, because by our count Cole has published 18 articles in the journal since 1988, including at least a half-dozen (besides the retracted article) on gestational trophoblastic tumors.

Will those papers also be retracted? If so, when? If not, why not?

Although it looks like Cole may have failed to get IRB approval for some of his studies, the retraction notice isn’t clear. Unfortunately, we haven’t had much luck reaching anyone in this case. Cole’s attorney won’t respond for a request for comment and we can’t raise the university, either. Cole, who spoke with us for our earlier story, has been mum.

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