PLOS ONE retracts breast cancer genetics paper after claim of misappropriated data

plosonePLOS ONE has retracted a 2012 article by a group of breast cancer researchers after another scientist — a leading U.S. oncologist — objected that the data came from his lab.

The paper, “GREB1 Functions as a Growth Promoter and Is Modulated by IL6/STAT3 in Breast Cancer,” came from a team composed of researchers at the Morehouse School of Medicine, Xavier University of Louisiana and the University of Miami School of Medicine. It purported to find that:

overexpression of GREB1 promotes cell proliferation and increases the clonogenic ability in breast cancer cells. Moreover, Il6/STAT3 modulates estrogen-induced GREB1 transcriptional activity in breast cancer cells.

The publication eventually came to the attention of Marc Lippman, of the University of Miami, who cried foul.

Per the retraction notice:

Following the publication of this article, Dr. Marc Lippman from the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine raised concerns that the article was based on work completed in his laboratory and which had been employed by the authors without his knowledge or permission.

Dr. Lippman’s concerns were evaluated by a review panel at Morehouse School of Medicine which concluded that there was substantial evidence in support of Dr. Lippman’s claims and advised that the publication should be retracted. The concerns have also been raised to the attention of the University of Miami which advised proceeding as recommended by Morehouse School of Medicine.

In the light of the recommendation of Morehouse School of Medicine, the editors retract this publication.

We also wish to make readers aware that references 16 and 21 in the original paper were cited with incorrect author details. The two references relate to the same article and the correct full citation is as below:

Correlation of GREB1 mRNA with protein expression in breast cancer: validation of a novel GREB1 monoclonal antibody. Breast Cancer Res Treat. 2010 Jul;122(2):371-80. doi: 10.1007/s10549-009-0584-x. Hnatyszyn HJ, Liu M, Hilger A, Herbert L, Gomez-Fernandez CR, Jorda M, Thomas D, Rae JM, El-Ashry D, Lippman ME.

Ah, but there’s more (isn’t there, often?): Turns out that Lippman and the first author of the retracted paper, Mingli Liu, share a patent, along with a few others — including the University of Miami and the University of Michigan — for a “novel GREB1a monoclonal antibody“:

The generation and validation of a novel monoclonal GREB1 antibody (GREB1ab). Methods for the prognosis, diagnosis, assessment of disease progression, severity and outcome utilize GREB1 molecules as biomarkers. The GREB1 antibody is also a useful tool for investigations focused on the expression, distribution and function of GREB1 in normal and cancer tissues.

Lippman, by the way, might be familiar to readers of this blog as a co-author of the paper with the longest time between publication and retraction, at 27 years. The reason for that retraction:

…duplication of data publication and text re-cycling…


5 thoughts on “PLOS ONE retracts breast cancer genetics paper after claim of misappropriated data”

  1. It appears that PLoS ONE retractions are on the rise. But is the number of papers published directly proportional to the number of retractions?

    1. That would be a bit far-flung assumption, retractions indeed became more frequent but consider that PLoS One publishes an enormous number of articles – so comparatively its still pretty low. IMO this only indicates that they care about pppr. There are a lot of journals that have a proportionally much higher rate of retractions (JBC might be a strong candidate along with the infamous triumvirate of glamour journals).

      1. Sorry BB, gonna have to disagree with you on PLoS “caring” about PPPR. I can list numerous cases where long and protracted discussions ensue, resulting in corrections when retractions would have been more appropriate. That’s if you’re lucky enough to get them to actually respond. Then there’s the issue of deleting comments on papers while they investigate, so flagged papers appear normal and get downloads which boosts overall journal impact, while they drag their feet about correcting/retracting for years/months. In-fact, I’d summarize PLoS’ policy on PPPR as “do the absolute minimum to pass COPE guidelines”. With the underlying editorial structure of PLoS and COPE being intertwined at so many levels, they know what the bare minimum is.

        I’d also disagree on JBC, whose annual page count was in the 30,000 range even before they went online only. Yes they have a lot of retractions, but a lot of papers too. I’m not sure anyone has actually done a proper analysis of the correlation between page counts and retractions across journals. Maybe Fang/Steen/Casadavel could do it?

        1. Got to support PB on this one. I personally submitted the first ever comprehensive PPPR on the literature of an ornamental plant to PLoS One, then to PLoS Biology, and both rejected the paper in 24 hours, stating that it was “beyond the scope of the journal”, whatever the heck that’s supposed to mean?

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