A cancer researcher said she collected blood from 98 people. It was all her own.

A researcher collected her own blood and forged the labels so it would appear to be samples from nearly 100 people, according to a new finding of research misconduct released today by the U.S. Office of Research Integrity (ORI).

The former researcher at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center swapped her own blood samples for those taken from 98 human subjects. The misconduct affects two grant progress reports and two papers; one paper has already been retracted, and the former “research interviewer” — Maria Cristina Miron Elqutub — has agreed to correct or retract the other.

Adel El-Naggar, a co-author on both of the papers also based at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, told Retraction Watch:

This is an unfortunate situation.

El-Naggar said he didn’t know many details of the investigation, but as the principal investigator on the affected grant (worth approximately $1.3 million), he has been informed.

He said the institution had decided that “all publications related to this incident” should be withdrawn, but could not specify which ones. El-Naggar said researchers at the institution realized something was wrong when they used the same blood samples for another study, and found they did not produce the same result as the one Elqutub reported.

We found a discrepancy.

According to today’s notice:

ORI found that Respondent engaged in research misconduct by recording dates and providing her own blood samples to cause these samples to be falsely labeled as samples from ninety-eight (98) study subjects in a cancer genetics study involving human blood samples.

We were unable to find contact details for Elqutub. A spokesperson for the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center told us:

The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center supports the findings of the Office of Research Integrity and has worked closely with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to reach a settlement. MD Anderson is committed to the highest standards of scientific integrity and works to uphold those standards through structured training programs and reporting mechanisms for institutional research conduct.

According to El-Naggar, Elqutub worked in the lab of Erich Sturgis. When we contacted Sturgis’s office seeking comment, he referred us to a university spokesperson.

Earlier this year, we reported on the retraction of one of the two papers affected by Elqutub’s work, a 2015 paper in Cancer that has been cited eight times, according to Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science. At the time, a spokesperson for the American Cancer Society — which publishes the journal — told us that Sturgis had initially asked for a correction to the paper. The journal ultimately retracted it, noting:

…the authors discovered that, unbeknownst to them, the sampling had been compromised, resulting in duplicate samples involving 93 controls and 4 cases.

Apparently, “duplicate samples” in the notice refers to Elqutub’s blood (which seems quite oblique). When we asked Sturgis for more details about the Cancer retraction after it first appeared, he also referred us to a university spokesperson.

The other paper flagged in the ORI notice is a 2015 paper from PLOS ONE, which has been cited twice. A spokesperson for PLOS told us:

We were only just made aware of this issue and are evaluating it. We will follow up per our editorial processes to establish appropriate steps to correct the record. We hope to identify a way forward soon.

For three years, Elqutub has agreed to have her research supervised, and — if she is employed by an institution that seeks federal funds — submit a certification that the data she provides are legitimate.

El-Naggar told us:

For my standpoint, this issue has been resolved locally and with the funding agency.

Like Retraction Watch? You can make a tax-deductible contribution to support our growth, follow us on Twitter, like us on Facebook, add us to your RSS reader, sign up for an email every time there’s a new post (look for the “follow” button at the lower right part of your screen), or subscribe to our daily digest. If you find a retraction that’s not in our database, you can let us know here. For comments or feedback, email us at team@retractionwatch.com.

8 thoughts on “A cancer researcher said she collected blood from 98 people. It was all her own.”

  1. It took her at least six years from starting university education to get to the point where she faked data, potentially putting people’s lifes at risk, and more likely twice that. Now a three year control period should cure her?

  2. A rather unusual case IMO
    This researcher is not mentioned anywhere in the 2 ‘currently’ affected papers – which raises a few points

    1. There could be additional studies and allied publications at risk – for example if these faulty i.e., false controls were used in other similar studies (e.g., GWAS studies) from this group
    2. The ORI agreement includes the respondents responsibility and agreement to ” the correction or retraction of PLoS One 10(6):e0128753, 2015 Jun 2.” – As she is not an author and indeed her name is never mentioned in the publication – how can she alone facilitate this and be held responsible for any such outcome. Surely this is the authors duty now (harsh and unfair this may be)
    3. Clearly this researcher did not gain academically – it does raise questions RE her motivation and of the environment in which she acted

  3. This seems REALLY weird. 98 identical blood samples? Aren’t the results going to seem like everyone had the same blood, or something? What was she thinking?

    And wait… at first I thought she did this in order to not have to collect so many blood samples, but the story says the researched “swapped her own blood samples for those taken from 98 human subjects”. So there were already 98 samples of blood.

    What was the purpose of doing this?

  4. Br J Cancer. 2005 May 23;92(10):1899-905.
    The Akt inhibitor KP372-1 suppresses Akt activity and cell proliferation and induces apoptosis in thyroid cancer cells.
    M Mandal1, S Kim1, MN Younes1, SA Jasser1, AK El-Naggar2, GB Mills3 and JN Myers*,1 1Department of Head and Neck Surgery, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, TX, USA; 2Department of Pathology, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, TX, USA; 3Department of Molecular Therapeutics, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, TX, USA.

    Figure 2. https://imgur.com/es6zTqv

    Figure 3. https://imgur.com/KgPOinT

    Figure 6. https://imgur.com/Sp2eAHn

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.