Researcher who unsuccessfully sued journal to stop retractions earns another expression of concern

Mario Saad
Mario Saad

A journal has added expressions of concern (EOCs) to four papers about diabetes, including one co-authored by an author who previously sued a different journal when it took a similar action on his papers.

The Journal of Physiology flagged the papers after an investigation “could not rule out the possibility” that they contained duplicated Western blots. Though the three other papers do not include Mario Saad on their author list, he plays a role: The papers include blots duplicated from other papers of Saad’s. And they reveal that Saad may have published those blots multiple times in his own work.

The EOCs all start out with the same statement:

With the agreement of the authors, the Editor-in-Chief and the publisher John Wiley & Sons, The Journal of Physiology is publishing four Expressions of Concern regarding four articles that appeared in The Journal between 2009 and 2014.

The Journal was alerted to the strong resemblance of western blots in figures in each of these four articles to blots in other figures in the same article and/or in other articles. After investigation by journal staff and experts in the field and consultation with the authors, we could not rule out the possibility that the western blots had been duplicated. All the articles involved have overlapping authorship.

The similarity of the western blots raises questions about the reliability of some of the data in the four articles. The authors, the Editor-in-Chief and the publisher considered each paper separately before agreeing that publication of an Expression of Concern for each paper was necessary. The Journal has asked the corresponding authors’ institution to investigate these cases.

Saad’s is the most familiar name involved with these EOCs. Eduardo R. Ropelle, at the University of Campinas in Brazil, is the first author on two of the flagged papers, and a co-author on one, and the last author on another; he shares two retractions, a mega-correction and another EOC with Saad. Claudio T. De Souza, at the Universidade do Extremo Sul Catarinense also in Brazil, is the last author on two, the first author on one and a co-author on another.

The flagged paper on which Saad is a co-author, “Inhibition of hypothalamic Foxo1 expression reduced food intake in diet-induced obesity rats,” was published in 2009. Ropelle is first author, and De Souza is last author. The paper has been cited 23 times, according to Thomson Reuters Web of Science.

The EOC explains:

The blot used in Figure 2A for alpha-tubulin appears to be repeated for insulin receptor in Figure 3A.

The blot used in Figure 2B for alpha-tubulin appears to be repeated for insulin receptor substrate-2 in Figure 3A.

The blot used in Figure 2C for alpha-tubulin appears to be repeated for Akt in Figure 3A.

The blot used for insulin receptor in Figure 3A appears to be repeated in the following articles/figures:

Figure 4B labelled as alpha tubulin in the article:

M. A. Carvalho-Filho, E. R. Ropelle, R. J. Pauli, D. E. Cintra, D. M. L. Tsukumo, L. R. Silveira, R. Curi, J. B. C. Carvalheira, L. A. Velloso & M. J. A. Saad (2009). Aspirin attenuates insulin resistance in muscle of diet-induced obese rats by inhibiting inducible nitric oxide synthase production and S-nitrosylation of IRβ/IRS-1 and Akt. Diabetologia, 52(11), 2425-2434. DOI: 10.1007/s00125-009-1498-1

(That paper includes another frequent Retraction Watch name, Brazilian researcher Rui Curi.) The EOC continues:

Figure 6K labelled as total p70S6K in the article:

Eduardo R. Ropelle, Jose´ R. Pauli, Maria Fernanda A. Fernandes, Silvana A. Rocco, Rodrigo M. Marin, Joseane Morari, Kellen K. Souza, Marı´lia M. Dias, Maria C. Gomes-Marcondes, Jose´ A.R. Gontijo, Kleber G. Franchini, Lı´cio A. Velloso, Mario J.A. Saad, & Jose´ B.C. Carvalheira (2007). A central role for neuronal AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) and mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) in high-protein diet–induced weight Loss. Diabetes 57(3), 594-605. DOI 10.2337/db07-0573

That article in Diabetes has its own expression of concern, which we reported on in March.

Three more EOCs that were issued as the result of the investigation each detail the re-use blots that originated with papers by Saad. The blots appear to have been duplicated in the Journal of Physiology papers, as well as additional Saad papers. Each of those EOC’s is as lengthy as the one above, so we’re just linking to them here:

In a February blog post, Leonid Schneider points out various possible iterations of the blot implicated in the 2010 Journal of Physiology paper. He suggests that the image might be the one that earned a recent correction for a Life Sciences paper on which De Souza is a last author and Ropelle is a co-author, “Reversion of hepatic steatosis by exercise training in obese mice: The role of sterol regulatory element-binding protein-1c:”

The authors regret that they uploaded the wrong figure for Fig. 1. The new Fig. 1 is now included.

The first author on that paper is Dennys E. Cintra, at the University of Campinas. The paper was published in 2012 and has been cited 12 times.

Although Saad tried to stop four previous EOCs from turning into retractions in the journal Diabetes, they were ultimately retracted earlier this year.

By our count, Saad now has five retractions (for of which were each preceded by EOCs), three EOCs that are still standing (including the latest addition), and one mega-correction.

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2 thoughts on “Researcher who unsuccessfully sued journal to stop retractions earns another expression of concern”

  1. If it is true that they re-used an alpha-tubulin blot then it is an incredibly lazy thing to do – it appears to be a loading control and how hard are they to probe for?

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