Cancer researcher logs 5th retraction

Journal of Mammary Gland Biology and NeoplasiaA cancer researcher has added a fifth retraction to his name — but the notice doesn’t mention any problems with the paper itself. 

Rather, the Journal of Mammary Gland Biology and Neoplasia decided to retract the paper because it referenced other papers that had been retracted as a result of data manipulation.

The notice doesn’t specify which references were problematic, but the list includes three papers that are now retracted; all three include Scott Valastyan (the sole author of the newly retracted paper) as first author, and two list Robert Weinberg, his former supervisor and prominent cancer researcher, as last author.

We’ve previously reported on five retractions of Weinberg’s papers, and four by Valastyan (including one in Cell).

According to his website, Weinberg discovered the first tumor-causing gene in humans, and also isolated the first tumor-suppressing gene. He is a highly cited researcher: At least 20 of his papers have been cited more than a thousand times each.

Valastyan was once regarded as a prominent postdoc in Weinberg’s lab at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In 2011, he was a Runyon Fellow at Harvard, a three-year award, which included $156,000 of independent funding. Although Valastyan doesn’t seem to have published any papers since 2012, he has filed patents as a joint inventor with Weinberg in 2014 and 2011. According to the United States Patent and Trademark Office, the 2011 patent has the following status: “Abandoned — Failure to Respond to an Office Action.” The status of the 2014 patent reads: “Response to Non-Final Office Action Entered and Forwarded to Examiner.”

Here’s the new retraction notice, issued on August 20:

This article, “Roles of MicroRNAs and Other Non-coding RNAs in Breast Cancer Metastasis,” by S. Valastyan, published in Journal of Mammary Gland Biology & Neoplasia, Volume 17, Issue 1, pages 23–32 (10.1007/s10911-012-9241-9), has been retracted at the request of the Editor-in-Chief because several studies referenced within the paper have subsequently been retracted due to data manipulation, which is a serious form of publishing misconduct.

The 2012 paper, which lists Valastyan as a sole author, has been cited 10 times, according to Thomson Reuters Web of Science.

Looking deeper into the list of references for the 2012 paper, we noticed a couple more things to point out. For instance, it includes a 2007 Nature paper, “Tumour invasion and metastasis initiated by microRNA-10b in breast cancer,” which was co-authored by Weinberg (not Valastyan), and received an erratum in 2008, noting some inadvertently exchanged sequences. The same paper was also the subject of a 2008 “Brief Communications Arising” (BCA) article, to which Weinberg and colleagues replied (in another BCA).

Two more referenced papers (one in PNAS and the other in Cell), which are not authored by Valastyan or Weinberg, are being questioned on PubPeer; the PNAS one has received a correction.

We reached out to the editor-in-chief of the Journal of Mammary Gland Biology and Neoplasia for further details on the newly pulled paper. Valastyan’s Harvard email address bounced, and we weren’t to find his current contact information.

We’ll update the post with anything else we learn.

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