Two Expressions of Concern in Blood for MD Anderson’s Aggarwal, who has threatened to sue Retraction Watch

aggarwalBharat Aggarwal, the MD Anderson researcher who has threatened to sue us while under investigation by his institution for alleged misconduct, now has two Expressions of Concern in addition to two corrections and two unexplained withdrawals.

Both of the papers were published in Blood. The Expression of Concern for “Gambogic acid, a novel ligand for transferrin receptor, potentiates TNF-induced apoptosis through modulation of the nuclear factor-κB signaling pathway,” reads:

The Editors wish to express their concern about the 15 November 2007 article cited above, regarding the reliability and/or veracity of the data and the study outcomes while awaiting the conclusions of the institutional investigation. Duplications of actin bands between Figures 2 and 4B were noted. The primary data indicate that the bands shown in both figures are from the experiment shown in Figure 4B. The original data for the experiment shown in Figure 2 have not been located. Should additional information become available about the conduct of this study, the Journal will evaluate that information carefully and determine whether additional notifications will be necessary.

Here’s the Expression of Concern for “Modification of the cysteine residues in IκBα kinase and NF-κB (p65) by xanthohumol leads to suppression of NF-κB–regulated gene products and potentiation of apoptosis in leukemia cells,” which is quite a doozy:

The Editors wish to express their concern about the 26 February 2009 article cited above, regarding the reliability and/or veracity of the data and the study outcomes while awaiting the conclusions of the institutional investigation, specifically for the results shown in Figure 5A. Four of the panels show cell and nuclei images that are identical to panels from Figure 2D of Ajaikumar B. Kunnumakkara, Haruyo Ichikawa, Preetha Anand, Chiramel J. Mohankumar, Padmanabhan S. Hema, Mangalam S. Nair, and Bharat B. Aggarwal, “Coronarin D, a labdane diterpene, inhibits both constitutive and inducible nuclear factor-κB pathway activation, leading to potentiation of apoptosis, inhibition of invasion, and suppression of osteoclastogenesis” [Mol Cancer Ther. 2008;7(10):3306-3317], and the authors now purport that they represent the experiments published in that article and not those described in the Blood article. In Figure 5B, the TNG and TNF+XN actin blot bands appear to be identical, which cannot be correct, because the cells were harvested under different conditions. The primary data for these experiments have not been located. Should additional information become available about the conduct of this study, the Journal will evaluate that information carefully and determine whether additional notifications will be necessary.

The 2007 paper has been cited 100 times, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge, while the 2009 paper has been cited 46 times.

36 thoughts on “Two Expressions of Concern in Blood for MD Anderson’s Aggarwal, who has threatened to sue Retraction Watch”

  1. I am having a bit of a conceptual problem here. Even the worst, most dishonest experimenter will presumably have a collection of data (blots, physiology traces, immunostaining, whatever) that is not published. Why on earth re-use data that is in the literature, rather than taking unpublished data and mislabeling it? Have these people done so little real science that the only available data is from previous papers, or am I missing something obvious?

    1. Indeed, it would lead one to believe that the substantial number of cases of western blot manipulation reported on Retraction Watch are just the tip of the iceberg. Any “competent” fraudster would hide their trail better…

    2. We may be missing the point a little here.

      The example of this Gentlemans alleged actions are there for all to see, the types of corrections that were used, is using and will continue to use until retractions are forthcoming. He then allegedly used legal threats at the sites who exposed the potential errors in the publications. It is nothing personal and even in what may be clear cut cases for those investigating, it is still a very lengthy process.

      Perhaps any named whistleblower in that institute may not have been looked upon favourably, showing the continued need for anonymity of those exposing science-fraud.

      The strategy for potential future cases may well flow down a similar stream, but we can surely learn from this case.

    3. It is quite amazing. A colleague made the same comment to be regarding the re-use of microscopy images. Whatever the microscope, optical, electron or scanning tunnelling, etc., one normally has hundreds of images – enough for dozens and dozens of papers, yet a some individuals seem to simply re-use one already published, even if it is for a different experiment. Does this just reflect an incredible level of arrogance?

  2. “The primary data for these experiments have not been located.”
    “The original data for the experiment shown in Figure 2 have not been located.”
    Probably a computer failure.

  3. Well, maybe it is the time for Dr. Aggarwal to hire a defense lawyer instead of trying to sue somebody else.

  4. For those who are new to this particular “oeuvre”, ace Japanese fraud blogger 11jigen lays out the 2009 paper duplications here:

    http://md-anderson-cc.blogspot.de/2012/02/modification-of-cysteine-residues-in.html

    Not much point in suing Retraction Watch in the US when all those naughty papers are available elsewhere for all to see.

    For the record, 11jigen’s systematic analysis followed up on early 2012 exposure by the now retired and much missed Abnormal Science blog. It is good to know that the wheels of scientific justice are turning, even if in their customarily slow fashion.

  5. Has anyone looked at this one?
    PMID 17164350 Blood. 2007 Mar 15;109(6):2293-302. Epub 2006 Dec 12.
    Fig 3E and F – same cells for controls and resveratrol; 3F thalidomide treated is also identical to the control.

    Cited 204 times without anyone else noticing it…

    1. I think you mean figure 1E and 1F. Images have been copied and reused for
      different conditions. Very bad.

  6. “which is quite a doozy”

    It sure is! What does a guy have to do to get a paper retracted around here? Kick the editor’s dog?

    1. Tried it, doesn’t work – you can get a ‘correction’, where one dubious image is substituted for another. Anyway, the dog is nice and we need to aim our kicks elsewhere.

  7. When this case first published on Retraction Watch (Jan 31, 2012), I commented that “Is it the first time Retraction Watch has taken up a story before the retraction? This posting will be hotly debated – i can foresee…..let us wait, watch and see how it unravels. Another herbal medicine case.” http://www.retractionwatch.com/2012/01/31/md-anderson-investigating-researcher-bharat-aggarwal-over-images/#comments – The Jan 31st blog has received about 450 comments – is this a record? Now, I am not surprised to note that this has developed into a complicated case. Look at one of the coauthors of the above papers – has secured a very good faculty position in a reputed indian institute (http://www.iitg.ac.in/biotech/Faculty%20Homepage/A.B.Kunnumakkara.htm). Strange but interestingly, “most” of the papers discussed on 11jigen blog haven’t been corrected.

    1. From one of the coauthors pages about himself:
      (http://www.iitg.ac.in/biotech/Faculty%20Homepage/A.B.Kunnumakkara.htm).

      “Reviewer of Journals:

      -BMC Complimentary and Alternative Medicine
      -Cancer Letters
      -Food and Chemical Toxicology
      -Journal of Translational Medicine
      -Molecular Carcinogenesis
      -Radiation Oncology
      -Yeast
      -Reviewer of �United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization – Encyclopedia of Life Support Systems (UNESCO-EOLSS)�- 2010.

      Professional affiliations:

      Fellow of Royal Society of Medicine, United Kingdom, 2010 onwards.
      American Association for Cancer Research (AACR), 2010 onwards.
      New York Academy of Sciences (NYAS), 2008 onwards.
      American Association of Immunologists (AAI) 2008 onwards.
      International Union of Immunological Societies (IUIS) 2008 onwards.
      Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) 2008 onwards.
      American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) 2008 onwards.
      International Society of Gastrointestinal Oncology (ISGO) 2006-2007.
      Indian Association for Cancer Research (IACR), 2004-2006.
      Society for Biotechnologists India, 2000-2001. “

      1. Most of these affiliations are likely to be simple memberships that can be acquired simply by paying an annual subscription fee.

  8. Carcinogenesis. 2011 Jun;32(6):904-12. PMID: 21427164
    1′-Acetoxychavicol acetate suppresses angiogenesis-mediated human prostate tumor growth by targeting VEGF-mediated Src-FAK-Rho GTPase-signaling pathway.
    Pang X, Zhang L, Lai L, Chen J, Wu Y, Yi Z, Zhang J, Qu W, Aggarwal BB, Liu M.

    Figure 2B
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3106438/figure/fig2/

    left me with the feeling that I had seen most of it before.

    Cancer Res. 2010 Mar 1;70(5):1951-9. PMID: 20160026
    Celastrol suppresses angiogenesis-mediated tumor growth through inhibition of AKT/mammalian target of rapamycin pathway.
    Pang X, Yi Z, Zhang J, Lu B, Sung B, Qu W, Aggarwal BB, Liu M.
    Source
    Institute of Biomedical Sciences and School of Life Sciences, East China Normal University, Shanghai, China.
    Figure 3A
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2854134/figure/F3/

    The mind can play tricks. Is it a vision/orientation thing?

    1. I think that the control panels in the 3 papers below are images of the same thing.

      1. Cancer Res. 2009 July 15; 69(14): 5893–5900. PMID: 19567671
      http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2724674/figure/F3/
      Figure 3A. Control panel. No debris upper left corner.

      2. Cancer Res. 2010 March 1; 70(5): 1951–1959. PMID: 20160026
      http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2854134/figure/F3/
      Figure 3A. Control panel. Grey, debris upper left corner.

      3. Carcinogenesis. 2011 June; 32(6): 904–912. PMID: 21427164
      http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3106438/figure/fig2/
      Figure 2B. Control panel. No debris upper left corner.

      I think that the lower half and left 3/4 of theVEGF panel of figure 2B Cancer Res. 2010 March 1; 70(5): 1951–1959
      http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2854134/figure/F2/

      can be found in upper half and right 3/4 of the the VEGF panel of figure 4B Cancer Res. 2009 Jul 15;69(14):5893-900.
      http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2724674/figure/F4/

      I think that the VEGF panel in figure 2C Cancer Res. 2010 March 1; 70(5): 1951–1959.
      http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2854134/figure/F2/

      is the same as the VEGF panel figure 4C Cancer Res. 2009 Jul 15;69(14):5893-900
      http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2724674/figure/F4/

      Maybe this does not really matter except it would better to have more than one control panel,
      and be able to find VEGF panels which were not the same or did not overlap.
      There is more of the world out there to look at.

      1. Fernando, i must take issue with the following statement you made: “I think that the VEGF panel in figure 2C Cancer Res. 2010 March 1; 70(5): 1951–1959.
        http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2854134/figure/F2/

        is the same as the VEGF panel figure 4C Cancer Res. 2009 Jul 15;69(14):5893-900
        http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2724674/figure/F4/

        They are not identical, the contrast has been altered slightly on the second one.

        An easy error to make.

        1. In reply to Stewart May 4, 2013 at 4:05 pm

          On the topic of easy errors to make.

          Clin Cancer Res. 2004 May 1;10(9):3207-15.
          Induction of cell cycle arrest and apoptosis by the proteasome inhibitor PS-341 in Hodgkin disease cell lines is independent of inhibitor of nuclear factor-kappaB mutations or activation of the CD30, CD40, and RANK receptors.
          Zheng B, Georgakis GV, Li Y, Bharti A, McConkey D, Aggarwal BB, Younes A.
          Source
          Departments of Lymphoma/Myeloma, Bioimmunotherapy, and Cancer Biology, M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, Texas 77030, USA.

          PMID: 15131062

          Figure 5.
          http://clincancerres.aacrjournals.org/content/10/9/3207/F5.large.jpg
          L-428 section of panels. Cleaved caspase-3 and cleaved PARP panels are the same.

          Figure 6.
          http://clincancerres.aacrjournals.org/content/10/9/3207/F6.large.jpg
          Figure 6A. HD-MyZ and HD-LM Phospho-p53 (ser15) panels are the same.
          HD-MyZ and HD-LM Total p53 panels are the same.

  9. Dear colleagues,

    Now that Science-Fraud is down, Abnormal Science is dozing, and 11jigen sticks to Japanese language, where can anyone expose duplicate images as these? A colleague just showed me a beautiful set that deserved being shared online.

    Hope someone has a new good blog on “suspicious science images” to recommend?

      1. In reply to CR May 7, 2013 at 7:03 am

        This is great! Thanks for the update!

        “In the mean-time, some other resources have sprung up, such as the excellent http://pubpeer.com/, for those interested in discussing published works.” — Paul Brookes.
        Good to know. I think that the commenting system on pubpeer is a great concept. On pubpeer readers can comment on any paper and will maybe get responses from authors and opinions from the community.

        1. Nothing will ever come out of this ongoing inquiry. A new paper: J Biol Chem. 2013 Sep 27. [Epub ahead of print] Clin Cancer Res. 2013 Aug 15;19(16):4465-76. doi:

  10. Who cares about the concern of Blood or other journals, as long as the PI gets the funding and the Posdoc gets secured job, nothing going to change. Where is abnormal Science, 11jigen (japanese blog) and finally the science fraud now ?

    1. In reply to Sick and tired May 5, 2013 at 10:47 pm

      I understand your sentiments, but it is important to make available to the general public what has been going on. BB Aggarwal has threatened to sue this site which could go the way of abnormal Science and science fraud.

    1. Yes fernando – it is almost as if the same panel, slightly enlarged and rotated 90 degrees, was used for KBMI cells treated with Evodiamine in one paper, but as SCH 66336 treated Jurkart cells in the other. And even though both panels show the same number of green and orange cells, one panel is labeled “10%” whereas the other is labeled “11%”. Quite remarkable!

      1. I think say “it is almost as if” is overly diplomatic – those two panels are unquestionably prepared from the same image. To be fair, the % orange cells in the cropped version of the image (2005) could well be 1% higher than in the uncropped version (2004) :).

    2. Please Fernando pessoa, would you be as good as to post these observations on the relevant papers in PubPeer.org? These are too good to lie forgotten.

      Please, any others should register and write their queries on that excellent website. Authors will receive them and possibly respond directly.

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