Stem cell researcher in Korea up to half a dozen retractions

stem cellsAlmost two years ago, we brought you — with the help of Trevor Stokes — the story of a stem cell researcher in Korea whose publication record, and career, unraveled after evidence of image manipulation surfaced in her work.

We’ve reported on four retractions, all in Antioxidants & Redox Signaling, by Soo-Kyung Kang, formerly of Seoul National University resulting from the efforts of a whistleblower. There has been another in Human Gene Therapy:

Subsequent to the publication of “Novel, Small Molecule induced GABA-hATSCs for Targeting of Neuropathic Pain” by Jee et. al. (online ahead of print March 2013; DOI: 10.1089/hum.2012.097) in Human Gene Therapy, we became aware of four papers that were retracted from Antioxidants and Redox Signaling from this same group (Im et al, 2012; Choi et al; 2012; Jang 2012a; Jang et al 2012b).

A routine analysis of the Human Gene Therapy paper for similarity to other previously published papers revealed a high degree of language identity with two of the retracted papers, including parts of the Results section. This raises concerns about the integrity of data within the Human Gene Therapy paper. The editorial leadership of Human Gene Therapy therefore has decided to retract the paper from Human Gene Therapy. The previously published retraction in Antioxidants and Redox Signaling indicates that officials from the institution where this research was conducted have initiated an investigation.

Human Gene Therapy is dedicated to upholding the strictest guidelines of scientific publishing and does not tolerate any impropriety.

And most recently, here’s a retraction in Stem Cells., of “IFATS Collection: Selenium Induces Improvement of Stem Cell Behaviors in Human Adipose-Tissue Stromal Cells via SAPK/JNK and Stemness Acting Signals:”

The above article from Stem Cells, published online on 26 June 2008 in Wiley Online Library (, has been retracted by agreement between the Senior Editors of STEM CELLS, AlphaMed Press, and Wiley Periodicals, Inc. The retraction has been agreed upon following an investigation by the Committee on Research Integrity of Seoul National University and the Senior Editors of STEM CELLS.

By a preponderance of the evidence, the Committee concluded that this paper contained intentional manipulations, including fabrication or falsification. The Committee further concluded that data in Figures 2A and 4C are identical; that data presented in Figure 2A are identical to and fabricated from figures presented in four other papers published by Professor Kang; and that data presented in Figure 2B are identical to and fabricated from a figure presented in one other paper published by Professor Kang.

The paper has been cited 26 times, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge. An interesting — and perhaps unintentionally revealing — notice appears on the page where the original abstract sits:

Retraction notice ‘that is, the text supplied by Legal’.

We also learned some background on the case from Keon Hyung Park, a reporter for the Seoul Daily who picked up the story following our posts in 2012. Ivan had the pleasure of meeting Park last year at the World Conference of Science Journalists in Helsinki, and he sent us some details of what happened in the investigation.

Park said that Seoul National University eventually looked at 17 papers — 14 identified as problematic by a whistleblower in a 70-slide PowerPoint presentation, and three others. The university’s Research Veracity Committee announced:

Among 70 slides which are reported to Retraction Watch, 22 slides are certainly fabricated. Even the professors Kang admitted that she fabricated the slides. Due to the lack of materials, the rest of slides cannot be identified whether they are fabricated or not.

And, they said, while Kang took a leading role in the research, she tried to claim that a student was responsible, that “it was mistake,” and that she “could not submit the original copy of the research because it was lost.” However, the committee didn’t accept that explanation, and also revealed text messages in which she tried to convince graduate students not  to testify against her.

In January 2013, the committee announced that it had determined that Kang had fabricated results, and recommended firing Kang. The University did so on March 8th.

Separately, the university investigated Professor Kyung Sun Kang, an influential stem cell researcher who worked with Soo-Kyung Kang. Kyung Sun Kang escaped with just a warning, with the committee saying that even though there was a mistake in his research, it was by a graduate student.

The university also warned Professor Sang Geon Kim, a professor of the College of Pharmacy whose name has appeared on Retraction Watch a few times. Park concluded:

Due to the report by Retraction Watch, there was the biggest impact, after the case of a former Professor Hwang Woo Suk, in the Seoul National University, which is recognized as the best university in South Korea by most people. I, who reported this case to Korea at that time based on Retraction Watch, was given the “reporter of this month” award by the  Journalists Association of Korea. I give thanks to Ivan Oransky and Adam Marcus. I think this is a meaningful case because it came to be an opportunity to the world of science, as well as the community of Korean universities, reconsider research ethics.  I hope Retraction Watch will continue to observe actively.

To that we say: Thank you, and we will!

Like Retraction Watch? Consider supporting our growth. You can also follow us on Twitter, like us on Facebook, add us to your RSS reader, and sign up on our homepage for an email every time there’s a new post.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.