Regenerative medicine, regenerative publishing

devbioDevelopmental Biology has retracted a 2009 paper by an group of regenerative medicine specialists who, it seems, were regenerating more than just cells.

The article, titled “The human placenta is a hematopoietic organ during the embryonic and fetal periods of development,” was led by Susan Fisher, of the Institute for Regenerative Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. It has been cited 32 times, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge.

According to the abstract:

We studied the potential role of the human placenta as a hematopoietic organ during embryonic and fetal development. Placental samples contained two cell populations-CD34(++)CD45(low) and CD34(+)CD45(low)-that were found in chorionic villi and in the chorioamniotic membrane. CD34(++)CD45(low) cells express many cell surface antigens found on multipotent primitive hematopoietic progenitors and hematopoietic stem cells. CD34(++)CD45(low) cells contained colony-forming units culture (CFU-C) with myeloid and erythroid potential in clonogenic in vitro assays, and they generated CD56(+) natural killer cells and CD19(+)CD20(+)sIgM(+) B cells in polyclonal liquid cultures. CD34(+)CD45(low) cells mostly comprised erythroid- and myeloid-committed progenitors, while CD34(-) cells lacked CFU-C. The placenta-derived precursors were fetal in origin, as demonstrated by FISH using repeat-sequence chromosome-specific probes for X and Y. The number of CD34(++)CD45(low) cells increased with gestational age, but their density (cells per gram of tissue) peaked at 5-8 wk, decreasing more than sevenfold at the onset of the fetal phase (9 wk of gestation). In addition to multipotent progenitors, the placenta contained myeloid- and erythroid-committed progenitors indicative of active in situ hematopoiesis. These data suggest that the human placenta is an important hematopoietic organ, raising the possibility of banking placental hematopoietic stem cells along with cord blood for transplantation.

But here’s what the retraction notice has to say:

This article has been retracted at the request of the Editor-in-Chief, because it contains significant passages of text and data overlapping with a previous publication which arose as a meeting report covering the same original data.

A new role for the human placenta as a hematopoietic site throughout gestation. Reproductive Sciences Vol. 16 No. 2 February 2009, 178–187,

These data were presented in part at the 2nd SGI International Summit on Reproductive Medicine held during November 2007 in Valencia, Spain, and at the ISEH 37th Annual Scientific Meeting held in July 2008 in Boston, MA.

What about that Reproductive Sciences paper? Here’s the abstract:

We investigated whether the human placenta contributes to embryonic and fetal hematopoietic development. Two cell populations–CD34(++)CD45(low) and CD34( +)CD45(low)–were found in chorionic villi. CD34(++) CD45(low) cells display many markers that are characteristic of multipotent primitive hematopoietic progenitors and hematopoietic stem cells. Clonogenic in vitro assays showed that CD34(++)CD45( low) cells contained colony-forming units-culture with myeloid and erythroid potential and differentiated into CD56(+) natural killer cells and CD19(+) B cells in culture. CD34(+)CD45(low) cells were mostly enriched in erythroid- and myeloid-committed progenitors. While the number of CD34(++)CD45(low) cells increased throughout gestation in parallel with placental mass. However, their density (cells per gram of tissue) reached its peak at 5 to 8 weeks, decreasing more than 7-fold from the ninth week onward. In addition to multipotent progenitors, the placenta contained intermediate progenitors, indicative of active hematopoiesis. Together, these data suggest that the human placenta is potentially an important hematopoietic organ, opening the possibility of banking placental hematopoietic stem cells along with cord blood for transplantation.


5 thoughts on “Regenerative medicine, regenerative publishing”

  1. This seems like a shame. Is the problem overlapping text or overlapping data? Presenting data at meetings and then publishing a journal article including that data once you’ve finished developing the story is a pretty normal practice. I’ve never seen authors in biomedicine citing conference reports — their own or anyone else’s. Is there anything that makes this case egregious? How was it even discovered? I can’t quickly find the abstracts for either conference online, though it looks like the ISEH abstracts are published in a book I could ILL if I needed to.

    If the data aren’t in question, a correction to insert citations would seem to be much more useful to the research community than a retraction.

    1. I only agree with Tim’s first sentence in full, and then partially with the rest. I am of the belief that it is not so much the integrity of the data that is in question, but the moral or ethical stance of the authors. But in that case, if Elsevier is punishing the authors for their ethical stance, and not based on the scientific integrity of the data, then surely this goes against the core principle that COPE recommends for the use of retractions, i.e., to correct the scientific problems of the literature. Surely, this “extended” mandate by Elsevier, a COPE member, goes against the basic fabric of retractions as invoked by COPE?

      How many other meeting participants who presented “original data” then republished the same data? I think the retraction itself is a shame because the data may be valid and solid, so in that sense, yes, only a corrigendum would suffice. But the underlying message (by Elsevier) is absolutely spot-on: if you submit to a journal, you have the ethical responsibility to declare, upon submission, AND also somewhere in the manuscript itself, that the results were published, in part or in whole, elsewhere, even if at a meeting, either as a poster, an oral presentation, and/or as a proceedings paper. The editors will the, with this fully transparently declared information in hand, then decide if a “duplication” is valid, or not. If 95% of meeting participants understand the ethics of duplicate publishing, then what exempts Fisher and colleagues from the same publishing ethical values? Double-dipping their results so that they get a nice “holiday” to present their oral or poster presentation AND also get a good paper out of it is ethically WRONG, even if the data set is perfectly right. It is trying to abuse the system to get dual benefit. I often see this in the horticultural community, whose many elite members use the International Society for Horticultural Science to take a holiday, usually paid by university or other grants, publish some or all of their original data in the conference proceedings, Acta Horticulturae, and then try to take a second benefit by publishing in a “peer reviewed” journal. It is time to expose their shenanigans, i.e. horticultural elite, as well as ISHS.

      In science publishing, you can’t make your pie, and eat it too. What may be validly “unfair” is that 5 or 10 years ago, when the internet, data-bases or search engines were not that strong, scientists would assume that just because their published work would or could not be detected, that they could republish part or all of their original data sets, without declaring the “copy”, thinking that they would never be caught, or detected. In this sense, technology has assisted the scientific community in ratting them out. Unfortunately, there is still a massive body of scientific literature that is being hidden by publishers behind pay walls that do not allow open-ended post-publication peer review. Until all scientific information becomes open access, these cases, like the Fisher paper, will continue to induce mixed responses that lie on the fence between publishing ethics and data integrity.

      The question that needs to be asked, Tim, is: if the paper had not been retracted, what message of weakness would that have sent about Elsevier’s publishing “ethics” policies? So, in order to portray a consistent, “ethical” image to their share-holders, they also have to enforce “consistent” values in their business model, i.e., Elsevier journals. Elsevier has, by aggressively (and suddenly, i.e., I estimate from about 2010-2012 onwards) pursuing an “ethics” path (e.g. the PERK kit, and a whiole new web-site that spring up suddenly dedicated to “Elsevier ethics”:, essentially set up its own downfall, in fact. Springer, too, but to a milder, and more reserved extent. By making and enforcing such rigorous outcomes, which I do not entirely disagree with in this particular case, they will not only alienate a portion of the scientific base, for example the Fisher group (potentially), who may perceive the ruling as unfair, or excessive, they will expose themselves to meticulous scrutiny by the scientific public of all literature published (i.e., in excess of 12 million papers). From my experience of about a dozen complaints made about the academic nature of papers in about 6 different Elsevier journals in the plant sciences, is that the editors cannot perceive the importance of correcting the literature, at the expense of their egos. Factual claims are seen as “insignificant”, but that ultimately leave the literature corrupted, uncorrected, and without a mechanism or structure in place that can accomodate scientists post-publication critiques. At some point, Elsevier (and Springer, and most main-stream commercial publishers) will reach a breaking point in which the very gate-keepers who have selflessly given, freely, of their time and expertise, realize that the publisher and system they were apparently defending was seriously flawed, on many levels. When the base actually one day wakes up, and sees that for dozens or hundreds of years, it was being carefully milked to ensure superficial quality, at the expense of perfection and ethics, then a revolt will take place. The science revolution of 2014 that has already been brewing for a few years now but could reach fever pitch soon.

      I have suggested, on many occasions, to Elsevier and Springer management, that they quickly implement a system in which post-publication peer review must be an integral part of the publishing model. Practically, this would involve the following. A scientist would submit a list of criticisms about a paper. These would be reviewed, and revised, by existing editorial board members, or by a special editor board. Comments related to language, scientific content, and style, are all valid criticisms, because a scientific paper represents the overap of all three aspects. Such post-publication peer reports MUST be published, alongside the original paper, as open access, also assigned a DOI, and must indicate the exact identity of the post-publication peer reviewer, anonymous or not, and the supervising editors. If such a system could be implemented, then trust in these publishers would increase, as would there be a resurgence of scientists wanting to pubish in their journals. However, since such a system is not in place, the only logical conclusion as to why scinetists continue to support Elsevier and Springer journals, is because of the “fame” factor and the gaming of the impact factor.

      Incidentally, then entire Oxford University Press journal fleet has terminated its contract with Ingenta in 2014. Unclear why.

      1. I think you’ve both missed the point of this. The journal Reproductive Sciences had a special issue with articles from two conferences, which included one by the authors that had similar material to what was in their Developmental Biology article. So the problem is two very similar journal articles. The whole point of conferences is to present work that is in progress so often it will duplicate work that will eventually be in a journal. Fine provided that the conference material doesn’t become a publication as well.

  2. Ken is right, if you publish somewhere, then it is published. This raises the issue of conference proceedings, special issues associated with meetings and so on. The “problem” is that PIs and institutional evaluation of PI output tends to look down on these types of outputs, so PIs are then tempted to recycle.

    They shouldn’t. So the retraction is absolutely spot on.

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