Inquiry into duplications reveals “multiple” image problems in tumor study

STEM_17_1.c1.inddA paper on how abnormal stem cells can cause benign bone tumors has been retracted by Cell Stem Cell after an inquiry into image duplications also uncovered “multiple instances of inappropriate western blot image adjustment.”

The first two authors “declined” to sign the retraction, according to the notice.

Besides confirming initial suspicions that images had been duplicated, the editors also found “multiple instances of inappropriate western blot image adjustment, such as uneven compression of images and removal of background elements:”

This article has been retracted at the request of the authors. Due to a reader query, it came to our attention that there were duplications of H&E staining images in the paper. Further investigation revealed that, in addition to these duplications, there were multiple instances of inappropriate western blot image adjustment, such as uneven compression of images and removal of background elements. Although we believe that the biological conclusions outlined in the paper are valid, the data processing issues identified mean that the figures presented in the paper do not provide an accurate representation of the original data, and we have therefore concluded that the most appropriate course of action is to retract the paper. The first two authors (H.Q. and C.Q.) have declined to sign the retraction notice. We apologize to our colleagues for any confusion caused.

The journal’s spokesperson confirmed the issues:

As the retraction notice says, we initially looked at this paper because of some image duplication concerns raised by a reader, and on doing so identified additional issues with the Western blots that in our view meant that the appropriate course of action was retraction. We discussed these issues with the corresponding author and he agreed with that conclusion and therefore we retracted the paper.

“Ossifying Fibroma Tumor Stem Cells Are Maintained by Epigenetic Regulation of a TSP1/TGF-_/SMAD3 Autocrine Loop,” found that TGF-β plays a major role in the development of Ossifying Fibroma, benign bone lesions typically found in young children. It was published in 2013 and has been cited four times, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge.

We’re unable to find contact information for first author Haiyan Qin but have contacted Cunye Qu and corresponding author and university professor, Songtao Shi. We’ll update if they reply.

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