Scientists at Duke and the National Institutes of Health have retracted a PNAS paper on asthma treatment after realizing the data from two sources didn’t match, and “most primary data” from several experiments were missing.
The mix up seems to have come from the pulmonary function laboratory that tested how well asthmatic patients’ lungs were functioning on an experimental anti-inflammatory therapy. As the authors say in the retraction note:
We have become aware that the primary data provided by the pulmonary function laboratory for calculating the in vivo pulmonary mechanics results are inconsistent with the machine-generated raw data.
The language feels eerily similar to that of a 2013 retraction from two of the same authors in the Journal of Applied Physiology. In that retraction notice, the “primary data used to calculate the in vivo pulmonary mechanics results were inconsistent with the machine-generated raw data.”
While reporting on the 2013 retraction, we noticed that one of the two authors of both papers, Erin Potts-Kant, was arrested for embezzling more than $14,000 from the school. The other author on both papers is William Foster, a pulmonary researcher at the Duke Medical Center. We’ve reached out to Foster and the corresponding author of the PNAS study, but were unable to find contact for Potts-Kant, who has left Duke.
Here’s more from the PNAS note for “Gastrin-releasing peptide blockade as a broad-spectrum anti-inflammatory therapy for asthma”:
The undersigned authors wish to note: “We have become aware that the primary data provided by the pulmonary function laboratory for calculating the in vivo pulmonary mechanics results are inconsistent with the machine-generated raw data, and that most primary data from Multiplex assays of cytokines collected in the bronchoalveolar lavage fluid cannot be located. In particular, the ovalbumin data cannot be substantiated in independent experiments, as presented in Fig. 2, part of Fig. 4, and Table 1, as well as Figs. S3, S5, and S6, and Tables S1 and S2. Most of the ozone data are reproducible but require O3 exposure at 2 ppm for a robust positive control response. The paper’s basic conclusion still holds true that gastrin-releasing peptide (GRP) blockade in the ozone model abrogates airway hyperreactivity responses in BALB/c mice and reduces neutrophilic inflammation and elevated cytokine production triggered by ozone in a broad-spectrum fashion, but only 8 cytokines were significantly modulated up by O3 and also down by O3+GRP blockade in the original raw data (IL-1β, IL-3, IL-5, IL -13, IL-17, GM-CSF, RANTES, and VEGF). To emphasize the significance of the ozone data, other laboratories have confirmed and extended our observations related to GRP-induced neutrophil accumulation (1, 2). Accordingly, we would like to retract this paper from the scientific literature and apologize to our colleagues and the scientific community for any inconvenience this might have caused.”
We’ve also reached out to a Duke spokesperson and PNAS, and will update if we hear back. The paper has been cited 11 times, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge.
Update 4:30 p.m. EST 4/6/15: A spokesperson from Duke confirmed that “yes, this relates to some of Ms. Potts’ work while she was employed at Duke.” We’ve followed up, and will update with anything else we find out.
Hat tip: Kerry Grens
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