Investigation prompts 5th retraction for cancer researcher for “unresolvable concerns”

3.coverAn investigation at the University of New South Wales in Australia has led to a fifth retraction for a cancer researcher long accused of misconduct, due to “unresolvable concerns” with some images.

As we reported in December, UNSW cleared Levon Khachigian of misconduct, concluding that his previous issues stemmed from “genuine error or honest oversight.” Now, Circulation Research is retracting one of his papers after an investigation commissioned by UNSW was unable to find electronic records for two similar images from a 2009 paper, nor records of the images in original lab books.

Again, the retraction note affirms that this is not a sign of misconduct:

UNSW has not attributed any instance of research misconduct or responsibility for the unavailability of the original data to Professor Khachigian or to any of the authors of the publication.

Here’s the retraction note in full for “Angiotensin II-Inducible Smooth Muscle Cell Apoptosis Involves the Angiotensin II Type 2 Receptor, GATA-6 Activation, and FasL-Fas Engagement:”

After being made aware of concerns related to Figures 6C and 6E in the above article, the University of New South Wales (UNSW) commissioned an independent, external report to examine this issue.

In this article, Figure 6C (middle lower panel) was described as a section of a carotid from a rat treated with Ang II+GATA 6 siRNA and stained with antibodies to GATA-6. Figure 6E (lower right panel) is described as a section of a carotid from a different rat treated with Ang II+ Negative Control siRNA and stained with IgG. Upon further examination, it was determined that Figure 6C and Figure 6E appear to be identical except that the image in Figure 6C shows the presence of a number of darker nuclei.

As part of their investigation, UNSW was unable to locate any electronic record of the original images and was unable to locate any records of the images in original lab books. The original slides have degraded over time and it was not possible to verify the authenticity of the images. The independent report, however, found that related quantitative data were recorded in the original lab books. Although the independent report commissioned by UNSW was unable to reach a definitive conclusion regarding this issue, the original concerns regarding these figures remain.

UNSW has not attributed any instance of research misconduct or responsibility for the unavailability of the original data to Professor Khachigian or to any of the authors of the publication.

Based on the unresolvable concerns with these figures, the editors, therefore, hereby retract the article.

In April 2014, a commenter on PubPeer noted similarities between Figures 6C and 6E.

The paper has been cited 17 times, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge.

According to our records, Khachigian now has a total of five retractions. Some of his papers have also been questioned on PubPeer. Last year, we contacted some of the journals who published papers by Khachigian; none said they were planning on taking any action. When we asked Circulation Research about this newly retracted paper in October, a spokesperson told us:

we’re looking into the matter but have no comment at this time.

In 2013, UNSW halted trials of Khachigian’s skin cancer drug, DZ13, while it investigated his work.

Hat tip: Kerry Grens

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6 thoughts on “Investigation prompts 5th retraction for cancer researcher for “unresolvable concerns””

  1. The editors of Circulation Research appear to have higher standards of research integrity than the University of New South Wales.

  2. “The editors of Circulation Research appear to have higher standards of research integrity than the University of New South Wales.”

    More likely the University of New South Wales has its hands tied by employment and defamation laws. If the University makes a declaration about a researcher, the researcher can hire a lawyer and drag the University officials into court as was done by these researchers in similar circumstances

    http://retractionwatch.com/2016/01/25/ontario-court-quashes-part-of-misconduct-finding-for-prominent-pair/

    yielding findings such as

    http://www.canlii.org/en/on/onsc/doc/2016/2016onsc439/2016onsc439.html

    It is extremely difficult to establish whose fingers were on the keyboard when an image in Photoshop suddenly became a new entity, or other data suddenly appeared or disappeared, out of or in to the ether.

    So the best we can hope for are courageous editors such as the editor of Circulation Research in the Khachigian case, or the editors of the American Journal of Pathology and the Journal of Clinical Investigation in the Ontario case. We can also hope and advocate for courageous university officials to document in a comprehensive report which findings in all of such researcher’s publications have verifiable data sources such as images, lab notebooks and original data files, so that the scientific community can judge the adequacy of the researcher’s science based on scientific evidence, not intricate manoeuvres in courts of law.

    The law has its place, but scientific validity is established via peer review in its many forms in scientific forums, not by judges in courts of law. Direct accusations against Khachigian will just cloud the issues in legalities. A comprehensive report on the veracity of data sources for Khachigian’s published research findings would establish the high standards of the research integrity of the University of New South Wales.

  3. The University of New South Wales is wedded to the grant money (that is only a direct formulation of the euphemism “conflicted”).

  4. The Circulation Res paper was supported by the National Health and Medical Research Council (Australia), which has just reinstated his research funding of AUD 8 million.

  5. The UNSW needs to a have FULL EXPLANATION about THE NATURE OF UNSW INVESTIGATION and THE TRUTH BHIND “UNSW WAS UNABLE TO LOCATE ANY RECORD OF THE ORIGINAL RESEARCH IMAGE-DATA”.

    The UNSW also needs to a have FULL EXPLANATION about “UNSW WAS UNABLE TO LOCATE ANY RECORD OF THE ORIGINAL RESEARCH IMAGE-DATA” in a JBC paper retracted on 1 June 2010; “Fig. 7A right panel in paper Ets-1 positively regulates Fas ligand transcription via cooperative interactions with Sp1”; Levon M Khachigian et.al; JBC, Vol. 277, No. 39, Issue of Sep. 27, 2002, pp. 36244–36252.
    http://retractionwatch.com/2013/06/07/a-mega-correction-for-rui-curi-whose-lawyers-threated-to-sue-science-fraud-org/

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