Eye researcher loses fourth paper for misconduct following Georgia, VA investigation

Azza B. El-Remessy
Azza B. El-Remessy

A biologist at the University of Georgia has lost a paper after an investigation revealed she had tampered with three images.

In 2014, Azza El-Remessy notched three retractions for a series of image errors. Now, a fourth retraction notice, and an expression of concern, explain there has been an investigation into her work. The investigation — conducted by two Georgia institutions, along with the Charlie Norwood Veterans Affairs Medical Center, where El-Remessy has additional appointments — has found evidence of misconduct.

The retraction notice for “Oxidative stress inactivates VEGF survival signaling in retinal endothelial cells via PI 3-kinase tyrosine nitration” explains:

Journal of Cell Science was contacted by a reader who alerted us to potential band duplication and manipulation in Fig. 3B, Fig. 4A,B and Fig. 5B in this paper. We contacted the corresponding author, Dr Azza El-Remessy, but she was unable to provide us with a satisfactory explanation. We therefore referred the matter to the institutes at which the research was performed by Dr El-Remessy, University of Georgia and Augusta University (formerly Georgia Regents University), for investigation.
A joint investigatory committee between the two institutes, as well as the Charlie Norwood Veterans Affairs Medical Center, where Dr El-Remessy has additional appointments, concluded that Dr El-Remessy committed research misconduct by falsification or fabrication in the above-named article. Specifically, evidence of direct and mirrored duplication or band substitution was detected in Fig. 3B, Fig. 4A,B and Fig. 5B.
These findings undermine the integrity of the presented findings, and Journal of Cell Science is therefore following the recommendation of the committee to retract this article.

The 2005 paper has been cited 111 times.

These aren’t the only issues flagged recently in El-Remessy’s work. Last month, the American Journal of Pathology placed an Expression of Concern on the paper Neurovascular Protective Effect of FeTPPs in N-Methyl-d-Aspartate Model: Similarities to Diabetes” after editors learned that it:

contained fabricated data in the original Figures 1C, 2A, and 4D. Corrections (to replace duplicated images) were published in the June 2015 issue (Volume 185, Issue 6, pages 1795–1796; ).

This matter was brought to the attention of the Editors by the University of Georgia, who have taken the lead role in investigating allegations of research misconduct against Dr. Azza El-Remessy, Associate Professor in the University of Georgia College of Pharmacy. The inquiry also involved Augusta University (formerly Georgia Regents University) and the Charlie Norwood Veterans Affairs Medical Center where Dr. El-Remessy has additional appointments. The Vice President for Research and the Investigation Committee concluded that Dr. El-Remessy committed research misconduct by falsification or fabrication in specific figures.

The Editors of the Journal are hereby publicly notifying readers of the concerns surrounding the data and their previously published corrections.

The 2010 paper has been cited 25 times.

The Expression of Concern mentions a correction notice from last year, which stated that the authors had simply made a mistake with the same images:

In the article entitled, “Neurovascular Protective Effect of FeTPPs in N-Methyl-d-Aspartate Model: Similarities to Diabetes” (Volume 177, pages 1187–1197 of the September 2010 issue), the authors inadvertently used the wrong images for treatment group N-methyl-d-aspartate plus 5,10,15,20-tetrakis(4-sulfonatophenyl) porphyrinato iron (III) (NMLA + FeTPPs) in Figures 1C, 2A, and 4D . The authors supplied replacement figures as well as several additional images to demonstrate consistency of results obtained. All materials were reviewed by the Editors. The authors state that the final conclusions of the article are unaffected, adding that, “These morphological studies were confirmed with additional biochemical assays including Western blot analysis shown in conjunction with images.”

We contacted the journal to ask about this series of notices; the managing editor told us that the journal “has no further comment” beyond what was published in the expression of concern and the previous correction notice.

Commenters on PubPeer have raised concerns about an additional paper by El-Remessy, “Diabetes-Induced Superoxide Anion and Breakdown of the Blood-Retinal Barrier: Role of the VEGF/uPAR Pathway,” published in PLOS ONE. A spokesperson for the journal told us:

PLOS is aware of concerns about duplication of images in a figure in the article. The journal office has followed up on the concerns, as per our processes. The journal received communication of the institutional investigation, and our editors are discussing the most appropriate step to correct the published record and expect a resolution soon.

We reached out to Augusta University; a member of the Institutional Review Board Office there referred us to the Office of Research Compliance at the University of Georgia. We have reached out to that office, but have not yet heard back. We have reached out to El-Remessy for comment as well. We will update this post with anything else we learn.

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