NEJM pulls letter by heart researcher who faked patient records

Screen Shot 2015-11-30 at 10.08.23 AMA heart researcher who fabricated patient records has notched retraction number six — this time, for a letter in the New England Journal of Medicine. She has two more retractions forthcoming.

The retraction comes at the request of Anna Ahimastos’s co-authors, following an investigation into her work by her former workplace, the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute. The investigation was not able to verify the data referenced in the letter, which includes a citation for a recently retracted JAMA paper.

The retraction note is similar to others for Ahimastos’s papers:

Bronwyn A. Kingwell, Ph.D., and Anthony M. Dart, D.Phil., have requested retraction of their owing to “inadequate validation of primary data sources and data misrepresentation” uncovered by an institutional investigation into the research of Anna A. Ahimastos, Ph.D., by the Designated Person for Research Conduct at Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute, Melbourne, Australia. The investigation did not find Drs. Kingwell and Dart to have been involved in any misconduct.

Given the evidence provided by the institutional investigation and the request of two of the three authors of the letter to the editor, we retract the letter.

The letter “Angiotensin II Blockade in Marfan’s Syndrome,” published in 2008, responds to a paper on a potential treatment for Marfan’s Syndrome, a life-threatening genetic disorder that can enlarge blood vessels. It’s been cited four times, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge.

In the letter, Ahimastos and her two co-authors cite a JAMA paper that showed another drug could also help the disorder:

We recently reported the results of a randomized, placebo-controlled trial, which showed that an angiotensin-converting–enzyme (ACE) inhibitor, perindopril, reduced aortic dilation in adult patients with Marfan’s syndrome after only 6 months.

That JAMA paper was retracted last week; it was her second JAMA retraction.

The authors of the 2008 paper responded to Ahimastos et al’s letter, noting that the mechanism of the drug in the JAMA trial, among other things, “remain[s] to be elucidated:”

Ahimastos and colleagues pose important research questions that have the potential to affect the clinical care of patients with Marfan’s syndrome and related disorders. Although it appears that both ARBs (e.g., losartan) and ACE inhibitors (e.g., perindopril) may modulate the expression or activity of TGF-β and matrix metalloproteinases and reduce aortic-root enlargement in Marfan’s syndrome, the mechanism (or mechanisms), relative potency, and duration of protection associated with each class of medication remain to be elucidated.

We followed up with a co-author of that response, Harry C. Dietz at Johns Hopkins, to ask if the retraction of Ahimastos’s work on ACE inhibitors would affect the field. He said that researchers had been exploring different treatments for Marfan’s syndrome:

To my knowledge, there has not been any substantive study that further addresses the issue of efficacy, mechanism and/or tolerance of ACE inhibitors in Marfan syndrome. The majority of emphasis in the field has been placed upon beta adrenergic receptor blockers and angiotensin receptor blockers.

A spokesperson for The New England Journal of Medicine declined to comment further on the retraction.

The Baker IDI investigation found problems in additional publications, and is expected to lead to eight retractions in total.

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