Cancer researcher in Germany loses multiple papers after misconduct finding

A pathology journal is retracting two papers after an investigation at the last author’s institution in Germany found evidence of scientific misconduct.

The notice for both papers cites an investigation involving Regine Schneider-Stock, who studies cancer biology at the Friedrich Alexander-University Erlangen-Nuremberg (FAU). Meanwhile, another 2005 paper that lists Schneider-Stock as the first author was retracted in October, noting evidence of image manipulation.

The most recent retractions, from the American Journal of Pathology, note that FAU declined to provide the journal with details of its investigation beyond a prepared statement:

The Editorial Office was recently contacted by corresponding author Dr. Regine Schneider-Stock and informed that Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg had completed an investigation into questionable practices related to figure presentation in the August 2009 article entitled “Identification of Phosphorylated p38 as a Novel DAPK-Interacting Partner during TNFa-Induced Apoptosis in Colorectal Tumor Cells” (Volume 175, pages 557-570; and the March 2013 article “Death-Associated Protein Kinase Controls STAT3 Activity in Intestinal Epithelial Cells” (volume 182, pages 1005-1020;

The official statement from the Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg is included below:

“The Commission for the Investigation of Scientific Malpractice of Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU) has reviewed allegations of the manipulation of images in two publications by Prof. Dr. Regine Schneider-Stock, published in the American Journal of Pathology. In the first journal article “Identification of Phosphorylated p38 as a Novel DAPK-Interacting Partner during TNFa-Induced Apoptosis in Colorectal Tumor Cells” (2009) as well as in the second journal article, “Death associated protein kinase (DAPK) controls STAT3 activity in intestinal epithelial cells” (2013), the Commission has identified scientific misconduct. The researcher had personally approached the Commission, once the allegations had been conveyed to her.

Upon the recommendation of the Commission and in accordance with FAU’s President, Prof. Schneider-Stock has requested the retraction of the publications. In order to secure the quality of future publications of her research group Prof. Schneider-Stock has personally introduced a guideline for the correct handling, analysis and evaluation of data, especially for young researchers. The Commission has deemed this proactive measure to be highly favorable.”

The notice continues:

The head of the Commission for Scientific Misconduct at the University of Magdeburg, where Dr. Schneider-Stock was employed at the time the 2009 article was written, has been informed of the inquiry and the recommendation to request retraction. The request for further details regarding this investigation was declined.

The articles are therefore being retracted from The American Journal of Pathology by the American Society for Investigative Pathology and all authors have been informed of this decision. Dr. Schneider-Stock states that “Although our paper contains absolutely solid, reproducible and interesting data […] the commission feels this is a contempt against the good scientific practice of our University and requests a retraction of this publication.” Both of these articles have already had published corrections to adjust previous issues with figure presentation. These published corrections (volume 185, page 2681; and volume 186, page 1710; are no longer applicable.

Identification of Phosphorylated p38 as a Novel DAPK-Interacting Partner during TNFa-Induced Apoptosis in Colorectal Tumor Cells” has been cited 21 times since it was published in 2009, according to Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science, formerly part of Thomson Reuters. “Death-Associated Protein Kinase Controls STAT3 Activity in Intestinal Epithelial Cells” has also received 21 citations since it appeared in 2013.

As the notice states, both papers had been corrected to address figure issues. In October, the Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics retracted a 2005 paper that had also been corrected in 2015 to address some figure concerns that had “raised suspicion regarding the original preparation of these figures.” The retraction notice doesn’t mention the FAU investigation:

Figures published in the above-referenced paper showed the appearance of possible inconsistencies. Although the data presented in the paper are valid and were verified by the erratum published in 2015, there remains a flaw of manipulations in some of the images, specifically the cell morphology microscopy figures, and the original data are no longer available for examination. At the request of Dr. Schneider-Stock and in agreement with her coauthors, the paper has been retracted.

5-aza-Cytidine Is a Potent Inhibitor of DNA Methyltransferase 3a and Induces Apoptosis in HCT-116 Colon Cancer Cells via Gadd45- and p53-Dependent Mechanisms” has been cited 75 times.

We contacted Richard Dodenhoff, the director of journals at the American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics, which publishes the Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics, but he was unable to provide further information:

The published retraction notice contains all of the information that is available about the retraction.

When learned about about the October retraction earlier this year, we contacted Schneider-Stock, and haven’t heard back.

The paper has been the subject of a discussion on PubPeer.

In the meantime, we discovered a 2004 retraction for a 2003 Endocrine paper on which Schneider-Stock is listed as a middle author. Here’s the notice, which is paywalled (tsk, tsk):

The manuscript was submitted to ENDOCRINE by the first author [Carsten Boltze] without prior notification of the other co-authors.

The manuscript is nearly identical to another article from our group that appeared in the September issue of the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism…We deeply regret that we must advise you of our wish to withdraw this manuscript because of the duplicate nature of the publication.

HSP90 is a key for telomerase activation and malignant transition in pheochromocytoma” has been cited 11 times. Here is a link to the paper mentioned in the notice.

We’ve also found a couple of errata for papers co-authored by Schneider-Stock that address figure issues. A 2012 paper published in Apoptosis, on which she is listed as last author, received an erratum in 2016 due to figure mislabeling issues:

The original version of the article unfortunately contained a mistake. In Fig. 4 the correct image for LBH 24 h was included. In Fig. 5 the mix-up between the 24 and 48 h control images was corrected. In Fig. 6b the correct image for GAPDH was included. This mistake had no influence on the scientific conclusion neither of the figure nor of the paper. The correct versions of Figs. 4, 5, and 6 are given below.

There was a mislabeling between the house keeping genes (HKG) ß-actin and GAPDH:

Figure 1: HKG for pDAPK is GAPDH

Suppl. 7B: HKG is GAPDH

DAPK plays an important role in panobinostat-induced autophagy and commits cells to apoptosis under autophagy deficient conditions” has been cited 19 times.

Another 2012 paper in Molecular Cancer Therapeutics on which Schneider-Stock is a middle author — “The Aurora Kinase A Inhibitor MLN8237 Enhances Cisplatin-Induced Cell Death in Esophageal Adenocarcinoma Cells,” cited 45 times — was issued an erratum in 2014, once again due to figure errors.

Hat tip: Rolf Degen

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