“The first author assumes all responsibility:” Malaria vaccine article retracted for image manipulation

InfectAndImmunAuthors of a 2012 article in Infection and Immunity investigating a malaria vaccine strategy are retracting it because it “contains several images that do not accurately reflect the experimental data.”

The paper, “Fine Specificity of Plasmodium vivax Duffy Binding Protein Binding Engagement of the Duffy Antigen on Human Erythrocytes,” has been cited 9 times, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge.

The retraction notice places the blame for the image shenanigans squarely on the first author, Asim Siddiqui, who is currently listed on LinkedIn as a faculty member at the College of Applied Medicine at King Saud University in Saudi Arabia.

Here’s the notice:

Volume 80, no. 8, p. 2920–2928, 2012. The authors hereby retract this article.

The authors have been alerted that the published manuscript contains several images that do not accurately reflect the experimental data. Specifically, some of the lanes in Fig. 2A and B and 3 contain duplicated images purporting to represent different samples.

The first author assumes all responsibility for these anomalies. Since some of the original gel photos are no longer available, we are unable to submit corrected figures at this time.

The authors attest to the veracity of the other results contained in this report and are in the process of preparing to resubmit a revised version of the manuscript with updated figures and new validated experimental data.

The authors sincerely regret the problems requiring retraction of this manuscript.

The journal was alerted to the problem by a reader, its editor in chief, Ferric Fang of the University of Washington School of Medicine (and a member of the board of directors of The Center for Scientific Integrity, our parent organization) told us:

A reader contacted IAI about anomalies in some of the figures in this article.  An ASM digital data specialist reviewed the figures and confirmed that multiple lanes in figures 2 and 3 that were supposed to represent different samples were in fact duplicates.  Specifically, figure 2A (lanes 4 & 7, with inversion), figure 2B (lanes 3 & 6) and figure 3B (lanes 6 & 7, and lanes 3, 5, 9, 11 & 13) were found to contain duplicated lanes.  The authors were contacted, and the first author confirmed that some of the lanes had been duplicated in order to improve the appearance of the figures.  As some of the original data were no longer available, and the figures were determined not to be a valid representation of the original experimental results, an ASM ethics panel recommended retraction of the article, to which the authors agreed.  The first author has accepted responsibility for the figures.

The corresponding author, Christopher L. King, professor of international health, medicine and pathology at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio, had this to say:

Infection & Immunity received an inquiry from a reader about a couple of figures in the published manuscript, and they used forensic scanning which indicated that in fact several figures (gel blots) seemed abnormal.   Turns out the first author had duplicated some lanes and inverted blots in parts of two figures, and that was unknown to the senior authors.   We did not pick up on the image manipulation prior to submission, nor did the reviewers.  It came as a surprise to us.   We had repeated many of the observations using other assays which are described in the MS, so conclusions of the paper are valid and external reviewers agreed with this.   We were able find all the correct original blots in our data files except for one control.  We are repeating this control experiment now.  The journal editor will allow us to resubmit the paper once this is completed (it will be reviewed as any original submission.) The retraction was requested because image manipulation violates the editorial polices of the journal and we agree this is appropriate, since manipulating data blots is not acceptable.  The first author accepts all responsibility.  All experiments as reported were in fact performed, with indicated results.  But rather than repeating some of the Western blots to be of sufficient quality for publication, the first author (postdoctoral fellow in my lab) manipulated some existing figures.

We’ve reached out to Siddiqui too, and will update if he replies.

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