Ethics, authorship concerns sink homeopathy paper by researchers arrested last year

For a host of reasons, a journal has retracted a paper co-authored by a researcher who reportedly once faced charges of practicing medicine without proper qualifications.

According to the retraction notice for “Psorinum Therapy in Treating Stomach, Gall Bladder, Pancreatic, and Liver Cancers: A Prospective Clinical Study,” published Dec. 8, 2010 in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, the paper was plagued by:

concerns about the ethics, authorship, quality of reporting, and misleading conclusions.

The notice, issued Feb. 26, went into significant detail about the problems — identified in an investigation by the journal’s board and the publisher’s research integrity team — as well as the legal troubles of the first author, Aradeep Chatterjee, and his father, Ashim Chatterjee, who was also a co-author of the paper:

Aradeep and Ashim Chatterjee own and manage the Critical Cancer Management Research Centre and Clinic (CCMRCC), the private clinic to which they are affiliated. The methods state “The study protocol was approved by the Institutional Review Board (IRB approval Number: 2001–05) of the CCMRCC” in 2001, but a 2014 review of Psorinum therapy said CCMRCC was founded in 2008 [2]. The study states “The participants received the drug Psorinum along with allopathic and homeopathic supportive treatments without trying conventional or any other investigational cancer treatments”; withholding conventional cancer treatment raises ethical concerns.

We asked the authors and their institutions for documentation of the ethics approval, the study protocol, and a blank copy of the informed consent form. However, the corresponding author, Aradeep Chatterjee, was reported to have been arrested in June 2017 for allegedly practising medicine without the correct qualifications and his co-author and father Ashim Chatterjee was reported to have been arrested in August; the Chatterjees and their legal representative did not respond to our queries. The co-authors Syamsundar Mandal, Sudin Bhattacharya, and Bishnu Mukhopadhyay said they did not agree to be authors of the article and were not aware of its submission; co-author Jaydip Biswas did not respond.

Retraction Watch reached out to Aradeep Chatterjee, as well as lawyers for him identified by the publisher, but none responded to our request for comment. We also reached out to his co-authors, but did not receive a response.

The paper, which has been cited two times according to Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science, studied the effects of psorinum, a homeopathic preparation sometimes given to cancer patients. The paper said psorinum is:

an alcoholic extract of the scabies, slough, and pus cells… [which] activates different immune effector cells (e.g., T cells, and accessory cells like, macrophages, dendritic cells, and natural killer cells) which can trigger a complex antitumor immune response.

Matt Hodgkinson, head of research integrity at Hindawi, told us that he started looking into the retracted paper last summer, when the Chatterjee’s legal trouble made news in India:

We were first told by a reader of possible concerns about the ethics at the start of July [2017]… We later received two further complaints, one via PubMed Central.

The investigation by Hindawi’s Research Integrity team, corresponding with several of the authors and consulting the editorial board of Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, confirmed the ethical concerns, including identifying the discrepancy in the approval date and the founding of the clinic, and found further issues with the authorship and reporting.

Aside from the questions about ethical approval and authorship, which are often enough to trigger a retraction, there were other discrepancies, according to the notice:

A member of the editorial board noted that although the discussion stated that “The limitation of this study is that it did not have any placebo or treatment control arm; therefore, it cannot be concluded that Psorinum Therapy is effective in improving the survival and the quality of life of the participants due to the academic rigours of the scientific clinical trials”, the abstract was misleading because it implied Psorinum therapy is effective in cancer treatment. The study design was described as a “prospective observational clinical trial”, but it cannot have been both observational and a clinical trial.

Hodgkinson added that he and the journal’s editorial board decided to retract the paper in December 2017.

The Chatterjees also published papers meeting abstracts on psorinum in the Journal of Clinical Oncology in 2009 and 2010; those papers abstracts also list Mukhopadhyay and Bhattacharya as co-authors. We asked the American Society of Clinical Oncology, which publishes that journal, about the status of the papers abstracts; a spokesperson for ASCO said she would look into the matter.

Update, March 14 2018, 16:13 UTC: We received an email from ASCO on March 5, which we unfortunately missed, that provided an update:

We have received an email about possible ethical misconduct by Chatterjee and are looking into this matter further.

Abstracts from the Chatterjees were accepted as general posters or publish-only abstracts in several meetings after peer review of the abstract information by each meeting’s respective scientific program committees. Neither of these session types (general poster or publish only) provides authors the opportunity to formally present their findings at the meeting. We have confirmed that no manuscripts by either Aradeep or Ashim Chatterjee have been published in JCO – just the abstracts that were published in the respective Meeting Proceedings.

ASCO requires authors to attest that their research was approved by appropriate ethics processes, and if appropriate to the research, that informed consent was obtained for all subjects.

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2 thoughts on “Ethics, authorship concerns sink homeopathy paper by researchers arrested last year”

    1. Libby, that’s exactly my question. The publishers seem very eager to shrug of their own responsibility in ensuring the articles are being properly reviewed prior to acceptance.

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