Thalidomide paper retracted for lab error

fertstertResearchers at the University of Pittsburgh have retracted a paper on using thalidomide, which led to an estimated 10,000 birth defects by the time the drug was pulled from the market in 1961, to prevent chemo-induced sterility.

Alkylating agents, which prevent DNA replication in cells, are a commonly-used cancer treatment. Unfortunately they also damage the ovaries and testes, sometimes causing infertility. The University of Pittsburgh scientists published a paper in Elsevier journal Fertility and Sterility in 2011 that suggested thalidomide, which causes severe birth defects when used during pregnancy, might help protect ovaries during chemo.

However, according to the notice, the authors tried and failed to replicate their results. They had two separate scientists who were not authors take a look at the results; everyone agreed that the original study incorrectly reported the number of primordial follicles, the precursor to mature eggs.

Here’s the notice for “Thalidomide treatment attenuates chemotherapy-induced gonadal toxicity”:

This article has been retracted at the request of the Authors.

The authors were not able to replicate the results presented in the initial report. This prompted them to reexamine the archived histological tissue sections that were available from the original study. Upon consultation with other experts in ovarian physiology and follicle development, they conclude that primordial follicles were not identified correctly in the original study. Follicles were recounted using the correct criteria by a researcher who was not an author on the paper and it is clear that thalidomide did not provide any protection of primordial follicles. Those results were confirmed by a second knowledgeable researcher who was not an author on the paper. Since primordial follicle counts were the most important endpoint reported, the authors feel it is necessary to retract the entire study. The authors would like to apologize for this error.

The paper has been cited once, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge.

We’ve emailed the authors, and will update with anything else we find out.

Hat tip: Rolf Degen 

2 thoughts on “Thalidomide paper retracted for lab error”

  1. Looks like they got it wrong and figured this out before anyone else did. I like their approach to reproducibility, there are quite a few labs that could learn some useful lessons here.

  2. After all these retractions, why you do not think that reviewers and editors should also be blamed and punished. i have reviewed some articles and was able to catch some errors and mistakes, some of them were intentional. Specially in this case the authors themselves realized that it was mis-interpretation by error, and reviewers could not figure that out.

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