A biologist who studied the impact of diabetes on the eye inappropriately altered data in five images from three papers, according to a new finding of misconduct issued by the U.S. Office of Research Integrity (ORI).
Readers may be familiar with the subject of the findings: Azza El-Remessy, a former tenured associate professor at the University of Georgia (UGA) in Athens, spoke to us earlier this year about her battle with UGA. In June 2016, UGA found her guilty of research misconduct and recommended she be terminated. El-Remessy fought back, hiring a lawyer to contest the findings, and the university ultimately paid her $100,000 to leave. (For more, here’s UGA’s June 2016 investigation report and the settlement agreement between UGA and El-Remessy.)
In the ORI report, published Sept. 29, 2017, the agency determined that El-Remessy had “intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly used the same Western blot bands to represent different experimental results” in three papers — a 2005 paper in Journal of Cell Science, a 2013 paper in PLOS ONE, and a 2007 paper in The FASEB Journal. The Journal Cell Science and The FASEB Journal papers have been retracted. The PLOS ONE paper, which has been cited nine times, according to Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science, has not yet been corrected or retracted.
More specifically, the ORI found that El-Remessy had reused and relabeled bands in five images, three in the Journal of Cell Science paper and one in the PLOS ONE and FASEB Journal papers. For instance, in Figure 4A of Journal of Cell Science paper:
… duplicated controls for p85 immunoprecipitation by using three bands representing 2 normal glucose and 1 high glucose treatments, flipping them horizontally (mirror images) to also represent 2 high glucose and 1 peroxynitrite treatments.
Contacted by Retraction Watch, El-Remessy — who is still affiliated with the Veterans Administration — declined comment. According to the ORI report, El-Remessy “neither admits nor denies ORI’s findings of research misconduct.” El-Remessy has maintained that the errors were honest mistakes.
In the ORI settlement, she has agreed to correct or retract the 2013 PLOS ONE paper and to have her research supervised. She also cannot serve on any peer review committee for the U.S. Public Health Service (which includes the National Institutes of Health) for three years, starting from Sept. 12, 2017, among other sanctions.
The research was supported by five NIH grants.
To date, El-Remessy has had five papers retracted, one withdrawn before publication, and four corrected.
Like Retraction Watch? Consider making a tax-deductible contribution to support our growth. You can also follow us on Twitter, like us on Facebook, add us to your RSS reader, sign up on our homepage for an email every time there’s a new post, or subscribe to our daily digest. Click here to review our Comments Policy. For a sneak peek at what we’re working on, click here.