Duke lung researcher up to seven retractions

Enviromental Health Perspectives

More journals have pulled papers co-authored by researchers Erin Potts-Kant and Michael Foster, at Duke University, bringing the total up to seven for Potts-Kant and six for Foster.

Authors were unable to replicate the experiments after “concerns about the initial data from the animal physiology laboratory” led them to reanalyze source data, according to the note in Environmental Health Perspectives. The comparison showed “potential inconsistencies in the data,” which “significantly impact the overall conclusions of the manuscript.” Similar issues appear to have felled the pair’s other papers, including the other two recent retractions in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine and the American Journal of Physiology – Lung Cellular and Molecular Physiology — but in the latter case, the discrepancies don’t affect the conclusion.

Potts-Kant was arrested on embezzlement charges in 2013. Authorities alleged that she stole almost $15,000 from Duke University.

Environmental Health Perspectives posted a retraction in July, for a 2012 paper that looked at the molecular underpinnings in airways that react to ozone.

Here’s the full notice:

The authors request retraction of “Hyaluronan Activation of the Nlrp3 Inflammasome Contributes to the Development of Airway Hyperresponsiveness.” Due to concerns about the initial data from the animal physiology laboratory at Duke, the authors re-exported source data from the Flexivent machine and compared these data with raw data originally received from the animal pulmonary physiology laboratory. Results from these initial comparisons suggested potential inconsistencies in the data. Therefore, the authors proceeded to replicate experiments of animal airway physiology presented in Figure 2A. These replicate experiments failed to validate the originally reported role of Nlrp3, ASC, and caspase 1 in airway hyperresponsiveness after exposure to ozone. These observed inconsistencies significantly impact the overall conclusions of the manuscript. Therefore, all of the authors have agreed to retract this paper in an effort to correct the scientific record. The authors sincerely apologize for any inconvenience to the scientific community.

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

Jane Schroeder, interim editor-in-chief at EHP, told us that the authors did the right thing.

The authors of “Hyaluronan Activation of the Nlrp3 Inflammasome Contributes to the Development of Airway Hyperresponsiveness” contacted EHP and asked that the paper be retracted for the reasons outlined in detail in their retraction notice. We appreciate their proactive efforts and transparency. Their handling of the situation sets an excellent example for other authors who may face similar circumstances.

The American Journal of Physiology – Lung Cellular and Molecular Physiology paper, published in 2008, looked at the role of an enzyme in the contractility of airway smooth muscle (ASM) cells. It has been cited eight times, and was retracted in April.

The notice tells a similar story to the previous one:

Chitano P, Wang L, Mason SN, Auten RL, Potts EN, Foster WM, Sturrock A, Kennedy TP, Hoidal JR, Murphy TM. Airway smooth muscle relaxation is impaired in mice lacking the p47phox subunit of NAD(P)H oxidase. Am J Physiol Lung Cell Mol Physiol 294: L139–L148, 2008; doi: 10.1152/ajplung.00384.2007.

A little over a year ago, the authors became aware of potential discrepancies in the primary data used to calculate the in vivo pulmonary mechanics, shown in Figure 9 of this article, and the machine-generated raw data. At the direction of the Senior Author, Dr. Thomas M. Murphy, the experiments in question have been repeated by Dr. Richard L. Auten and Mr. S. Nicholas Mason. Although our new data do not affect our conclusion that NAD(P)H oxidase plays a role in ASM relaxation, the new results confirm that the findings presented in panel B of Figure 9 are not reliable.

We offer our sincere apologies for the errors and for any inconvenience associated with the publication of the article. The paper is therefore being retracted by the American Physiological Society at the request of Dr. Chitano, and with the approval of the coauthors.

Editor-in-chief Sadis Matalon directed questions to the publisher, the American Physiological Society. Christina Bennett, Publications Ethics Manager, cited APS policy in her response:

Thank you for your interest in the retraction.    APS policy regarding inquiries related to publication ethics issues is below.

Notice regarding inquiries: The APS has a transparent and rigorous publications ethics policy. The APS does not address inquiries or discuss perceived or actual ethical infractions with individuals, groups, or organizations not directly involved with the matter, including the media.

In the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine paper, about the molecular changes that predispose obese people to asthma, an expression of concern published in April about “the reliability of some of the data” turned into a retraction in the July 15 issue:

The authors of the article “Alveolar Macrophages from Overweight/Obese Subjects with Asthma Demonstrate a Proinflammatory Phenotype” (1), in conjunction with the Journal editors, have decided to retract the article because of problems with the reliability of its data. The Journal had previously published an Expression of Concern regarding this article (2). All the authors have agreed to this retraction except for one, whom we have been unable to contact.

The authors regret the inconvenience to the Journal and its readers.

The paper had been cited 32 times.

We heard from Nathaniel Dunford of the American Thoracic Society, which publishes the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, and he gave us this statement:

The authors had concerns with the reliability of data in the article and chose to withdraw it. We have no further information at this point.

We contacted John Hollingsworth, the final author on the EHP paper and a co-author on the paper in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, who said he had “nothing to add.”

We’ve reached out to Foster, Potts-Kant and Duke University for a statement, as well as Pasquale Chitano, the first author on the AJP paper (and co-author on another retraction from the pair). We’ll update the post if we hear back.

Hat tip: Rolf Degen

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