Cancer researcher who threatened to sue Retraction Watch corrects another paper

aggarwalBharat Aggarwal, the MD Anderson researcher who has threatened to sue Retraction Watch for writing about issues in his papers, has corrected another study.

Here’s the notice for “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-κB Mutations or Activation of the CD30, CD40, and RANK Receptors:”

In this article (Clin Cancer Res 2004;10:3207–15), which was published in the May 1, 2004, issue of Clinical Cancer Research (1), Figure 5A contained duplicate panels for cleaved caspase-3 and cleaved PARP in the L-428 cells. Figure 6A contained duplicate panels for phospho-p53 and total p53 in the HD-Myz and HD-LM2 cells. These errors occurred during the assembly of the figures and have no bearing on the results or conclusions of the study. The corrected figures are shown below; the figure legends remain the same. Because this is an old study, some of the original blots could not be retrieved to generate complete, corrected figures. The authors regret these errors.

Figure 5a
Figure 5a
Figure 6a
Figure 6a

The paper has been cited 82 times, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge. Six of those citations appeared after June of last year, which is when pseudonymous whistleblower Clare Francis alerted the journal to issues with the paper.

This makes three corrections, two unexplained withdrawals, and two Expressions of Concern for Aggarwal.

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19 thoughts on “Cancer researcher who threatened to sue Retraction Watch corrects another paper”

      1. Wow thats an actual whole career’s worth of papers listed in one’s blog!! 65!!

        I wonder if serious scientists still buy this mumbo-jumbo of “errors occurred during the assembly of the figures [not affecting] the results or conclusions of the study. ” I will live to see a correction of a whole paper saying that errors on all this manuscript “the results or conclusions of the study”. Maybe a guy could say sty to that effect about his whole life at his deathbed? That would make a fantastic quote for his grave.

        1. Worst case scenario, in cases of serious errors and misrepresentations in cancer research, is a lucrative return to practicing medicine, just like Potti did. Nobody seems to care too much. In contrast, they are crucifying people like Forster (or Hauser) who research essentially unimportant topics that will never affect peoples’ lives.

  1. The journal editors and other responsible people seem to have accepted that once something is in print then the conclusions are valid even if it turns out that the underlying data was manipulated so it is not surprising that incorrect figures ‘have no bearing on the results or conclusions of the study’ (sarcasm in case it is not clear).
    Can some one explain to me how they derived the correct figures or knew that this is how it should have been when “Because this is an old study, some of the original blots could not be retrieved”?

  2. It’s a pity they chose not to correct the other errors at the same time…

    (1) In Fig. 5, the Bid blots in the right two panels (L-428 and KM-H2 cells) are the same image flipped horizontally. This can be seen by dialing up the contrast.

    (2) In Figure 6C, the XIAP blot in KM-H2 cells (top right) is the same image as the pro-caspase 9 blot in KM-H2 cells of Figure 5A.

    Perhaps RW can reach out to the editorial office regarding the fact that this correction is incorrect?

    It wouldn’t be the first time this author has failed to correct a paper properly (see the Antiox Redox Signal example from late 2012 reported here on RW and elsewhere). It also strikes me as a little odd to correct this paper now, because it wasn’t on Jigen’s blog, or Joerg Zwirner’s Abnormal Science. Why, when there are a ton of more recent papers out there being questioned, would someone choose to correct a paper that’s not even been flagged in public before, especially if it’s from a decade ago and past the ORI statute of limitations?

    1. Regarding the last comment, because, in my eyes, ORI, like the US (at least its stance on ethics, morals and values), has lost it’s validity on the world stage. So, justice is in the public domain now, or should be because a 6-year statute of limitations is just a useless, random number probably concocted while palying a game of darts. I don’t see why there cannot be a correction of a correction? Why can’t the correction receive 2 or 3 more corrections? Why don’t you contact the editor/journal yourself. It’s not like Paul Brookes is a pseudonymn. I don’t see why RW would have to act as the middle man.

    2. “correct a paper that’s not even been flagged in public before”

      Er, that might depend upon whether RW counts as “in public” ;-)Because googling the paper’s PMID (15131062) with some additional terms best left to the imagination revealed that the paper was called out last September in a comment by none other than local commentator “David Hardman”.

      Figure 6 in particular was the cause of some mirth that bordered on the unseemly. I now feel a twinge of embarrassment. Our point was though that, as you have just noted, there is so much to discover for the determined enthusiast.

      Your bafflement about why to tweak this paper rather than, say, the 11jigen “sixty-five” is understandable. These have been up for several years. Is the implication that – in Texas – one paper being called out at RW is worth more than 65 listed on a Japanese blog? I am fairly sure they take those blogs pretty seriously back home these days. Just ask Riken.

  3. I did contact MD Anderson Cancer Center regarding concerns for the reputation of MD Anderson and the the scientific community in general due to all the rumors regarding Dr. B. Aggarwal. I was also asking if the investigation that was carried out in 2012 has been finished and what kind of consequences this will lead to. I received an e-mail, which was forwarded to Dr. William Plunkett at MD Anderson, who oversees these evaluations. Here is his reply to his colleague which forwarded the e-mail to him:
    I think we can forget about this guy and his concerns for MDACC.
    This answer really highlight the core of the problem I raised in my correspondence….
    I realized that Dr. Plunkett is a professor at the same dept. as Dr. Aggarwal. Furthermore, the Dept. chair
    is a co-author on several articles published by Dr. Aggarwal.
    Does anyone have information regarding the final report regarding the Aggarwal case?

  4. Now Fazlul H. Sarkar at Wayne State Medical School in Michigan, who has published with Bharat Aggarwal, has ratcheted up comments for 70 of his papers; primarily for potential problems with western blots and microscopy images. This is another lab that has over 500 publications, almost 50 papers a year, last year had 6 NIH R01s and currently with 4 R01s. And, Sarkar has taken is also busy submitting errata and corrections. According to PubPeer comments, the university president was notified almost a year ago, but nothing has been done. A dozen of senior professors at the university are co-authors of Sarkar (some as first authors!) in his papers. More worryingly, there are a couple of clinical trials ongoing that are based on papers flagged by PubPeer reviewers!

  5. We’ve done cleaved caspase and PARP assays. The quality of the blots presented in the corrected Figure 5a would not be acceptable in any laboratory striving for reproducibility. The PARP panel is so highly trimmed that the reader cannot see the uncleaved product and hence the degree of cleavage cannot be discerned. The same thing can be said for the caspase panel.

  6. One more correction for Aggarwat:
    Oncogene (2007) 26, 7324–7332; doi:10.1038/sj.onc.1210544; published online 28 May 2007
    Epidermal growth factor (EGF) activates nuclear factor-kappaB through IkappaBalpha kinase-independent but EGF receptor-kinase dependent tyrosine 42 phosphorylation of IkappaBalpha
    G Sethi1, K S Ahn1, M M Chaturvedi1,2 and B B Aggarwal1
    1Cytokine Research Laboratory, Department of Experimental Therapeutics, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, TX, USA
    Correspondence: Professor BB Aggarwal, Cytokine Research Laboratory, Department of Experimental Therapeutics, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, 1515 Holcombe Blvd, Box 143, Houston, TX 77030, USA.
    2Current address: Dr MM Chaturvedi, The Department of Zoology, University of Delhi, Delhi 110007, India.
    Received 4 January 2007; Revised 26 March 2007; Accepted 10 April 2007; Published online 28 May 2007.

    Oncogene (2015) 34, 5407; doi:10.1038/onc.2015.313
    “The authors wish to apologise for any inconvenience caused.”

  7. New figures in another Aggarwal paper questioned at PubPeer:
    Cancer Research January 15, 2011 71; 538
    ROS and CHOP Are Critical for Dibenzylideneacetone to Sensitize Tumor Cells to TRAIL through Induction of Death Receptors and Downregulation of Cell Survival Proteins
    Sahdeo Prasad, Vivek R. Yadav, Jayaraj Ravindran, and Bharat B. Aggarwal
    doi: 10.1158/0008-5472.CAN-10-3121

  8. Could somebody help us better understand these corrections? Aggarwal’s research on the potential of spices to fight cancer is often cited. To what degree do these corrections impact his findings about spices and the anti-inflammatory cell signalling pathways they appear to impact?

  9. i don’t think anyone can advice you on this Harriet Sugar Miller. It is all in perception! Time will tell the impact of this!

  10. Resveratrol, a multitargeted agent, can enhance antitumor activity of gemcitabine in vitro and in orthotopic mouse model of human pancreatic cancer
    Kuzhuvelil B. Harikumar, Ajaikumar B. Kunnumakkara, Gautam Sethi, Parmeswaran Diagaradjane, Preetha Anand, Manoj K. Pandey, Juri Gelovani, Sunil Krishnan, Sushovan Guha, Bharat B. Aggarwal, International Journal of Cancer (2010) Volume 127, Issue 2, pages 257–268

    “Because of human error discovered in one of the panels in Fig. 1C…”

    Inhibition of growth and survival of human head and neck squamous cell carcinoma cells by curcumin via modulation of nuclear factor-kappaB signaling
    Sita Aggarwal, Yasunari Takada, Sujay Singh, Jeffrey N Myers, Bharat B Aggarwal, International Journal of Cancer, 111 (2004) Volume 111, Issue 5, pages 679–692
    DOI: 10.1002/ijc.20333

    No apology for the lack of clarity in the original is given.

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