Seven retractions for prominent cancer researcher brings total to 18

Bharat Aggarwal
Bharat Aggarwal

A cancer researcher has earned seven more retractions following an investigation into his work by his former employer, MD Anderson Cancer Center in Texas, bringing his total to 18 retractions.

Bharat Aggarwal‘s name will be familiar to some readers, as he has threatened to sue Retraction Watch for reporting on his case.

All of the new retraction notices, issued by The Journal of Biological Chemistry (JBC), stem from image-related issues. The now-retired Aggarwal has seven papers that have each been cited at least 1,000 times, and in 2015, he was on Thomson Reuters Web of Science’s list of The World’s Most Influential Scientific Minds. With these new notices, he also has made it to our leaderboard of individual researchers who’ve racked up the most retractions.

An MD Anderson spokesperson sent us this statement:

MD Anderson is committed to the highest standards of scientific integrity. Any scientific work that does not adhere to the highest standards of scientific integrity is not acceptable. MD Anderson also supports organizations and journals, like Journal of Biological Chemistry, when questions of scientific integrity have been raised and they have determined that steps must be taken to correct the scientific record and ensure scientific integrity.

Here’s the first of the new retraction notices, all issued on August 5:

This article has been retracted by the publisher. An investigation at MD Anderson determined that images had been reused to represent different experimental conditions. Specifically, the actin immunoblot in Fig. 1D, left, and the JNK1 immunoblot in Fig. 5B were reused. In Fig. 5D, the image showing MDA-MB-231 cells transfected with scRNA and treated with medium as well as the image showing MDA-MB-231 cells transfected with scRNA and treated with TRAIL were reused.

The 2010 paper, “Celastrol, a triterpene, enhances TRAIL-induced apoptosis through the down-regulation of cell survival proteins and up-regulation of death receptors,” has so far been cited 84 times, according to Thomson Reuters Web of Science.

Next, here’s the retraction notice for “Crotepoxide chemosensitizes tumor cells through inhibition of expression of proliferation, invasion, and angiogenic proteins linked to proinflammatory pathway:”

This article has been retracted by the publisher. Analysis by the Journal with image analysis software determined that Fig. 4C had been inappropriately manipulated.

This 2010 paper has been cited nine times.

And, here’s the retraction notice for another 2010 paper, “γ-Tocotrienol but not γ-tocopherol blocks STAT3 cell signaling pathway through induction of protein-tyrosine phosphatase SHP-1 and sensitizes tumor cells to chemotherapeutic agents,” which has been cited 38 times:

This article has been retracted by the publisher. An investigation at MD Anderson determined that the image of nuclei from U266 cells treated with -T3 from Fig. 1G had been reused in Fig. 1D of Yadav, V. R., Prasad, S., Kannappan, R., Ravindran, J., Chaturvedi, M. M., Vaahtera, L., Parkkinen, J., and Aggarwal, B. B. (2010) Cyclodextrincomplexed curcumin exhibits anti-inflammatory and antiproliferative activities superior to those of curcumin through higher cellular uptake. Biochem. Pharmacol. 80, 1021–1032; the reused image represents different experimental conditions.

Next is another 2010 paper, “Gossypol Induces Death Receptor-5 through Activation of the ROS-ERK-CHOP Pathway and Sensitizes Colon Cancer Cells to TRAIL,” which has been cited 64 times. Here is its retraction notice:

This article has been retracted by the publisher. An investigation at MD Anderson determined that image of control HCT116 cells treated with TRAIL and the image of cells transfected with CHOP siRNA and treated with TRAIL in Fig. 5C were reused. Additionally, the Journal determined that the actin immunoblot in Fig. 2Awas reused as the actin immunoblot in Fig. 3B; the control/TRAIL treated image had been reused in the DR5/ GossypolTRAIL and in the scrambled siRNA/TRAIL images in Fig. 4B; the scrambled siRNA/Gossypol image from Fig. 4B was reused as the NAC image in Fig. 7C; and the control/Gossypol image was reused as the CHOP siRNA/medium in Fig. 5C.

Next, a 2011 paper, “Ursolic Acid, a Pentacyclin Triterpene, Potentiates TRAIL-induced Apoptosis through p53-independent Up-regulation of Death Receptors,” which has accumulated 65 citations so far. Here is its retraction notice:

This article has been retracted by the publisher. Fig. 1B was assembled from a composite of many images. The actin immunoblot from Fig. 2A, right, was reused in Fig. 4A, left. Parts of the actin immunoblot from Fig. 2C, left panel, had been reused in supplemental Fig. 1A. The actin immunoblot from Figs. 2E and 4B, left panels; and supplemental Fig. 1B was reused in Fig. 5B, top panels. Parts of the JNK immunoblot from Fig. 4C were reused in Fig. 7C, JNK panels.

Here’s the retraction notice for another 2011 paper:

This article has been retracted by the publisher. An investigation at MD Anderson determined that the image of medium control and the image of DR4DR5 siRNA treated with TRAIL in Fig. 3B were reused.

The paper, “Nimbolide Sensitizes Human Colon Cancer Cells to TRAIL through Reactive Oxygen Species- and ERK-dependent Up-regulation of Death Receptors, p53, and Bax,” has been cited 47 times.

Finally, here’s the retraction notice for “3-Formylchromone interacts with cysteine 38 in p65 protein and with cysteine 179 in IB kinase, leading to down-regulation of nuclear factor-B (NF-B)-regulated gene products and sensitization of tumor cells:”

This article has been retracted by the publisher. An investigation at MD Anderson determined that images were used to represent different experimental conditions. Specifically, the IKK immunoblot from Fig. 2G was flipped horizontally and reused as the IKK immunoblot in Fig. 2H, and the IKK immunoblot in Fig. 2G was flipped horizontally and reused as the IKK immunoblot in Fig. 2H.

The 2012 paper has been cited 14 times.

By our count, Aggarwal also has 17 corrections (11 are related to figures), and two expressions of concern (EOCs) to his name.

In 2012, Aggarwal told us that MD Anderson was investigating his work, but then threatened to sue us for reporting on it.

We’ve reached out to Aggarwal’s attorney, Paul Thaler (who we’ve previously featured in a Q&A article), and will update the post with anything else learn.

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4 thoughts on “Seven retractions for prominent cancer researcher brings total to 18”

  1. Will Thomson Reuters Web of Science make note of these? Who knows how much money was wasted and if any lives were affected by his bad behavior?

  2. Meanwhile, as blogged about 4 years ago, the journal of immunology, their editorial board, and several members of the publications committee plus former and current presidents of the American Association of Immmunologists, all remain utterly incommunicado regarding allegations of image manipulation in 5 papers by their illustrious former editorial board member. I wonder if the actions of their fellow journals might force them to reconsider?

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