EMBO awardee under investigation loses grant

Sonia Melo
Sonia Melo

Sonia Melo, the recipient of an early career award from the European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO) who fell under investigation after one of her papers was retracted, has now lost the grant.

On the EMBO release announcing the nine awardees of the 2015 Installation Grants, there now appears an asterisk beside Melo’s name. At the bottom of the page, this message appears:

*Update: As of 29 February 2016, installation grant has been withdrawn.

The award consisted of 50,000 Euros annually for three to five years. It was designed to help her establish a lab at the University of Porto, in Portugal.

Melo recently lost a paper in Nature Genetics for duplicated images; “A TARBP2 mutation in human cancer impairs microRNA processing and DICER1 function” was also corrected in 2010.

Soon after we reported that EMBO was taking a second look at the papers that formed the basis of Melo’s application, Melo contacted us to say the retraction was the result of an “embarrassing error,” and there was no misconduct involved.

At the time, she also commented on questions raised about her other research on PubPeer — specifically, some commenters have suggested some of her papers contain duplicated figures that claim to represent different experimental conditions:

As for further comments/concerns, which arose on pubpeer, the authors and respective institutions have not ignored them. All concerns were addressed, raw data registered on notebooks was analysed and reports developed for each case. The data was shown to be correct so no further action was taken.

EMBO was informed of all these facts and is evaluating if these affect my evaluation for the EMBO Installation Grant I was recently awarded.

She affirmed that her work is solid:

As I previously said, I stand by every bit of data published in the papers I co-author. There was no effort to commit fraud. I regret the lack of diligence I have shown with the Nature Genetics manuscript, my first manuscript as a PhD student, and the confusion it has caused to the readership and my colleagues.

Update 3/2/16 11:14 a.m. eastern: A spokesperson responded to our inquiry, noting that it was EMBO’s decision to withdraw the grant:

This is to confirm that soon after the decision to award an installation grant to Sonia Melo, EMBO became aware of the allegations that papers authored by her contained irregularities. As a consequence, EMBO set up a committee to investigate these allegations. After a thorough analysis of all papers that had formed the basis for her application for the grant, the committee concluded that the body of work upon which the selection for an installation grant was made contained evidence of a level of negligence in handling and presenting data that would have precluded a recommendation for an award. The committee therefore decided that Sonia Melo should not become a member of the EMBO network of Young Investigators and Installation Grantees, and that the installation grant will be revoked. This has been communicated to Sonia Melo and her home institution on February 29.

Hat tip: Publico

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7 thoughts on “EMBO awardee under investigation loses grant”

  1. Hats off to EMBO who seem to take post publication peer review seriously, but also engage in due process. Award is a drop in their budget, doubtless could be rolled over to next year.

    I am curious as to how rescinding the award works. If the award is not up and running, have they requested funds already spent be repaid or are they cancelling the award from a particular date?

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