Cancer journals retract 10 papers, flag 8 more, and apologize for the delay

Bharat Aggarwal

Five journals published by a prominent cancer research society have retracted a total of 10 papers — most of them by a former researcher at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.

Nine of the 10 retractions share that researcher, Bharat Aggarwal, as an author. Aggarwal — who more than five years ago threatened to sue us for reporting on an investigation into his work — is now up to 28 retractions, and has left his post at MD Anderson. The AACR is also appending an editor’s note to eight of his other papers — but it has not explained the reason for what it acknowledges is a lag in moving on these articles.

“Unfortunately, we have been delayed in correcting the published record, and for this we apologize,” writes the publisher of The American Association for Cancer Research (AACR), Christine Rullo, in a note in this month’s issue of Cancer Research. Rullo doesn’t say how long the journals took to handle the retractions.

The articles by Aggarwal and colleagues date as far back as 2006, and have been cited from 26 to 167 times, according to Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science. They concern various basic science aspects of cancer, including the study of “natural products” such as curcumin.

The tenth retraction includes authors Nivedita Sain, of The Institute for Cancer Research (ICR) in Surrey, UK, and Paul Workman, who is president of the ICR. Both also co-authored a paper in Cancer Chemotherapy and Pharmacology — not an AACR journal — that was corrected in January.

Not an isolated case

We recently wrote about long delays at Cancer Research involving another researcher, Anil Jaiswal. In that case, after nearly two years, some articles that the University of Maryland at Baltimore, Jaiswal’s former employer, had requested be retracted, still weren’t.

In her publisher’s note today, Rullo wrote:

We have significantly improved our procedures and processes so that, going forward, we can make these corrections to the published record in a more timely manner. It will take several months to publish various types of corrections related to a number of older cases on which we are working.

We’ve asked Rullo what led to the delays on the papers retracted today, and will update with anything we learn.

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18 thoughts on “Cancer journals retract 10 papers, flag 8 more, and apologize for the delay”

  1. Make the thief give back all the taxpayer money with interest. Academia has a severe problem with lying and cheating and it is NOT being addressed

    1. … plus sending them to jail. Cheating and misconduct at this level is so hard without support from administration and authorities.

  2. Cancer Res. 2008 Feb 15;68(4):1188-97. doi: 10.1158/0008-5472.CAN-07-3268.
    3 comments on PubPeer (by: Pheidole Melanogaster, Hydraena Andalusa)

    Silencing of HSP90 cochaperone AHA1 expression decreases client protein activation and increases cellular sensitivity to the HSP90 inhibitor 17-allylamino-17-demethoxygeldanamycin.
    Holmes JL1, Sharp SY, Hobbs S, Workman P.
    Author information
    1
    Cancer Research UK Centre for Cancer Therapeutics, The Institute of Cancer Research, Haddow Laboratories, Sutton, Surrey, United Kingdom.

    See: https://pubpeer.com/publications/C6FC87A48D3FA4FBE14988F4C7DA6C

  3. Mol Cancer Ther. 2010 May;9(5):1219-33. doi: 10.1158/1535-7163.MCT-09-0683
    6 comments on PubPeer (by: Tecticornia Arbuscula, Stictonectes Lepidus, Rhipicephalus Decoloratus)

    .
    Mechanistic evaluation of the novel HSP90 inhibitor NVP-AUY922 in adult and pediatric glioblastoma.
    Gaspar N1, Sharp SY, Eccles SA, Gowan S, Popov S, Jones C, Pearson A, Vassal G, Workman P.
    Author information
    1
    Signal Transduction and Molecular Pharmacology Team, Cancer Research UK Centre for Cancer Therapeutics, The Institute of Cancer Research, Sutton, Surrey, UK.

    See: https://pubpeer.com/publications/B9F5526DAA022A24160FFC842D6936

  4. We have significantly improved our procedures and processes so that, going forward, we can make these corrections to the published record in a more timely manner.

    This AACR announcement will alarm a few authors.

  5. Cancer Res. 2007 Mar 1;67(5):2206-16.
    In vitro biological characterization of a novel, synthetic diaryl pyrazole resorcinol class of heat shock protein 90 inhibitors.
    Sharp SY1, Boxall K, Rowlands M, Prodromou C, Roe SM, Maloney A, Powers M, Clarke PA, Box G, Sanderson S, Patterson L, Matthews TP, Cheung KM, Ball K, Hayes A, Raynaud F, Marais R, Pearl L, Eccles S, Aherne W, McDonald E, Workman P.
    Author information
    1
    Haddow Laboratories, Cancer Research UK Centre for Cancer Therapeutics, The Institute of Cancer Research, 15 Cotswold Road, Belmont, Sutton, Surrey, UK.

    See: https://pubpeer.com/publications/2D08D69E0DA4FD23B55600C9AD42C7

  6. “and has left his post at MD Anderson”
    Wow, corrupted people simply waste, steal and ruin large amounts of public funds and contaminate scientific literature with false information, then just leave with no thorough investigation and discipline and no cost to them and their fellow gang supporters. It is so bad and disappointing!

  7. So much more to do . . .

    http://cancerres.aacrjournals.org/content/68/10/3715

    Ikaros Modulates Cholesterol Uptake: A Link between Tumor Suppression and Differentiation
    Siobhan Loeper, Sylvia L. Asa and Shereen Ezzat

    https://pubpeer.com/publications/685311CEF5DAD92CC6E89165B3C1D8

    The University of Toronto Internal Investigation Committee report of June 2014 states:

    4C/4D Observation

    Input 4C (AcH3) and 4D (AcH4) are identical, but have different levels of exposure

    Response

    Drs. Ezzat and Asa agree that the images are identical, but state that “the scientific impact is nil”. They explained that a manuscript reviewer requested that the same inputs be shown for AcH3 and AcH4

    Conclusion

    The reuse of images has been explained to the Committee, but was not disclosed in the figure legend.

    Observation

    The bands in Input 4B for pcDNA, Ik1 and Ik6 are identical to those seen in 4C and 4D, but in 4B they are flipped horizontally, and with grayness adjustment/exposure change. The control band in the published image in 4B is seen in the primary data adjacent to the band indicated as pcDNA.

    Response

    Drs. Ezzat and Asa agree that the inputs are identical and in the case of 4B, part of the image is flipped.

    Conclusion

    A satisfactory explanation for these irregularities has not been provided.

  8. http://cancerres.aacrjournals.org/content/72/8/2017

    FGFR2 Isoforms Support Epithelial–Stromal Interactions in Thyroid Cancer Progression
    Miao Guo, Wei Liu, Stefano Serra, Sylvia L. Asa and Shereen Ezzat
    DOI: 10.1158/0008-5472.CAN-11-3985 Published April 2012

    https://pubpeer.com/publications/8DED35619357EB2A06497EB8DB7E02

    Retraction Watch has obtained the University of Toronto Research Internal Investigation Committee Final Report via a freedom of access to information request

    https://retractionwatch.com/2018/07/02/reports-of-misconduct-investigations-can-tell-us-a-lot-here-are-more-than-a-dozen-of-them/

    See entry

    Sylvia Asa and Shereen Ezzat, formerly of the University Health Network, University of Toronto

    Story: Sanction for Toronto researchers upheld despite court challenge

    Report

    The “Report” link is https://retractionwatch.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/Ezzat-and-Asa-Final-InternalInvestigationReport-2014-10-15.pdf

    The report notes many more image irregularities than described above, many of them with conclusion “A satisfactory explanation for these irregularities has not been provided”.

    Regarding the identical images in Fig 3A and 3B, and flipped images in 3C described above, the report notes “The Committee was informed that corrected images had been provided to the journal editor. However, the correction has not been published.”

    Thus even though “corrected” images were supplied and some sort of correction generated, the journal still shows no correction, no expression of concern or any other clue that problems exist for this paper.

  9. http://cancerres.aacrjournals.org/content/67/15/7505

    A Growth Hormone Receptor Mutation Impairs Growth Hormone Autofeedback Signaling in Pituitary Tumors
    Sylvia L. Asa, Rebecca DiGiovanni, Jing Jiang, Megan L. Ward, Kimberly Loesch, Shozo Yamada, Toshiaki Sano, Katsuhiko Yoshimoto, Stuart J. Frank and Shereen Ezzat
    DOI: 10.1158/0008-5472.CAN-07-0219 Published August 2007

    https://pubpeer.com/publications/FA21CBFCA67F6B831A705AD7129969

    Readers of this paper should be aware of the findings of the University of Toronto’s University Health Network Research Internal Investigation Committee Final Report concerning irregularities in published papers of Shereen Ezzat and Sylvia Asa.

    See https://retractionwatch.com/2018/07/02/reports-of-misconduct-investigations-can-tell-us-a-lot-here-are-more-than-a-dozen-of-them/

    for a link to the report

    https://retractionwatch.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/Ezzat-and-Asa-Final-InternalInvestigationReport-2014-10-15.pdf

    Observation:

    – Control band in lysate primary data does not match published image.

    Response:

    – Primary data have been provided

    – Drs. Ezzat and Asa claim they have already addressed these concerns to UHN’s satisfaction on April 11, 2013.

    Conclusion:

    The original concern presented involved possible cloning of bands. Image analysis demonstrated that although the images have undergone a number of digital processing steps, the published images can be reproduced from the primary data. However, the control band for lysate does not match the primary data.

    While the initial concern had been addressed, a satisfactory explanation for the additional irregularity relating to the control band has not been provided.

  10. http://clincancerres.aacrjournals.org/content/14/7/1984

    Fibroblast Growth Factor 2 and Estrogen Control the Balance of Histone 3 Modifications Targeting MAGE-A3 in Pituitary Neoplasia
    Xuegong Zhu, Sylvia L. Asa and Shereen Ezzat
    DOI: 10.1158/1078-0432.CCR-07-2003 Published April 2008

    https://pubpeer.com/publications/592D7969960038C8C4007C54D16DE1

    http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2015/08/04/third-retraction-for-toronto-doctor-duo.html

    Confidential UHN research records obtained by the Star reveal an UHN investigation of nine papers co-authored by the couple was completed last year.
    “Examples of fabrication, falsification and/or material non-compliance were evident in a majority of the papers,” UHN investigators Christopher Paige and Dr. Charles Chan concluded last October.

    http://www.cbc.ca/news/health/staff-of-top-toronto-scientists-altered-images-documents-1.3175396

    The court document says a former employee of the lab, Xuogong Zhu, told the committee he had changed images in two of the papers under investigation. It goes on to say Zhu reported that use of Photoshop — a computer program that can alter images — was common in the lab in question.

    Another member of the lab staff, Wei Liu, told the investigating committee that a third member of the staff, Miao Guo, told him she had altered an image to enhance it, after seeing Zhu do something similar.

    Liu told the hospital he reported Guo’s action to Ezzat but the court document says Ezzat denied the conversation took place. Later, Liu said he believed it was Asa he had told.

  11. “The AACR strongly supports scientific integrity, correction of the published record as needed, and the reproducibility of science. To quote a recent Editorial by Chi Van Dang (August 1, 2018 issue, page 4106; http://dx.doi.org/10.1158/0008-5472.CAN-18-1751)“…. it is our collective responsibility as investigators, authors, manuscript referees, and editors
    to ensure that manuscripts submitted to and published by Cancer Research are based on rigorous, well-controlled studies that are robust and have the highest probability of being reproducible.””

    Problematic Chi Van Dang data:-

    1. http://www.pnas.org/content/95/4/1511.long
    A unique glucose-dependent apoptotic pathway induced by c-Myc
    Hyunsuk Shim*, Yoon S. Chun*, Brian C. Lewis†, and Chi V. Dang*†‡§¶‖
    *Department of Medicine, †Program in Human Genetics and Molecular Biology, Departments of ‡Molecular Biology and Genetics and §Pathology, and ¶The Johns Hopkins Oncology Center, The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD 21205
    PNAS February 17, 1998. 95 (4) 1511-1516; https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.95.4.1511

    Figure 2A. https://imgur.com/JiMdKA7

    2. http://www.jbc.org/content/275/29/21797.long
    J Biol Chem. 2000 Jul 21;275(29):21797-800.
    Home Current Issue Papers in Press Editors’ Picks Minireviews
    Deregulation of Glucose Transporter 1 and Glycolytic Gene Expression by c-Myc*
    Rebecca C. Osthus‡, Hyunsuk Shim§¶, Sunkyu Kim§‡, Qing Li§, Rahul Reddy§, Mita Mukherjee‖, Yi Xu‖, Diane Wonsey‡, Linda A. Lee§ and Chi V. Dang‡,§**
    – Author Affiliations
    From the ‡Program in Human Genetics and Molecular Biology, §Department of Medicine, and ‖Department of Pediatrics, The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland 21205

    Figure 2A. https://imgur.com/9PyKq7T
    https://imgur.com/G8Zdd7D

  12. Clin Cancer Res. 2011 Mar 15;17(6):1561-70. doi: 10.1158/1078-0432.CCR-10-1927. Epub 2011 Jan 28.
    2 comments on PubPeer (by: Cypovirus 5, Hoya Camphorifolia)

    A phase I study of the heat shock protein 90 inhibitor alvespimycin (17-DMAG) given intravenously to patients with advanced solid tumors.
    Pacey S1, Wilson RH, Walton M, Eatock MM, Hardcastle A, Zetterlund A, Arkenau HT, Moreno-Farre J, Banerji U, Roels B, Peachey H, Aherne W, de Bono JS, Raynaud F, Workman P, Judson I.
    Author information
    1
    Cancer Research UK Cancer Therapeutics Unit, The Institute of Cancer Research, Sutton, Surrey, United Kingdom.

    See: https://pubpeer.com/publications/17381EA586BFAFC02333E53938442F

  13. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1074552106003486?via%3Dihub
    Chemistry & Biology
    Volume 13, Issue 11, November 2006, Pages 1203-1215
    Journal home page for Chemistry & Biology
    Inhibition of Hsp90 with Synthetic Macrolactones: Synthesis and Structural and Biological Evaluation of Ring and Conformational Analogs of Radicicol
    Author links open overlay panelNicolasProisy1Swee Y.Sharp2KathyBoxall2StephenConnelly3S. MarkRoe4ChrisostomosProdromou4Alexandra M.Z.Slawin5Laurence H.Pearl4PaulWorkman2Christopher J.Moody1
    1 School of Chemistry, University of Nottingham, University Park, Nottingham, NG7 2RD, United Kingdom
    2 Cancer Research UK Centre for Cancer Therapeutics, The Institute of Cancer Research, Haddow Laboratories, 15 Cotswold Road, Sutton, Surrey, SM2 5NG, United Kingdom
    3 Department of Chemistry, University of Exeter, Exeter, EX4 4QD, United Kingdom
    4 Section of Structural Biology, The Institute of Cancer Research, Chester Beatty Laboratories, 237 Fulham Road, London, SW3 6JB, United Kingdom
    5 School of Chemistry, University of St. Andrews, Fife, Scotland, KY16 9ST, United Kingdom.

    See: https://pubpeer.com/publications/D12A45797A3A34FFE657B3E2DE3BDC

  14. All the AACR journals should dedicate at least one issue only containing retractions of their previous false publications. There is a loooong list of train wrecks that must be put to the graveyard. AACR could start with the Pubpeer journal service, with a list of houndreds of papers. Doing that would be the best contribution AACR could do for the achievement of cancer research and better hope for cancer patients in the future!

  15. In October, 2017 editor Justin Stebbing penned an editorial

    “The importance of being earnest in post-publication review: scientific fraud and the scourges of anonymity and excuses”

    discussed on Retraction Watch in late October 2017

    https://retractionwatch.com/2017/10/26/dog-ate-data-eight-excuses-editors-hear/

    I wrote to Justin Stebbing concerning this paper

    https://pubpeer.com/publications/BBC278257761C0C12E5D38844873DF

    and never saw any reply or action.

    In August 2018 editor Chi Van Dang penned this editorial

    “The Half-Lives of Facts, Paradigm Shifts, and Reproducibility in Cancer Research”

    http://cancerres.aacrjournals.org/content/78/15/4105

    A July, 2018 entry about articles in Cancer Research was on Retraction Watch with quotes from Chi Van Dang concerning long delays

    “Nearly two years after a university asked for retractions, two journals have done nothing”

    https://retractionwatch.com/2018/07/13/nearly-two-years-after-a-university-asked-for-retractions-two-journals-have-done-nothing/

    I wrote to him concerning these papers

    https://pubpeer.com/publications/8DED35619357EB2A06497EB8DB7E02

    https://pubpeer.com/publications/685311CEF5DAD92CC6E89165B3C1D8

    and have seen no action on these.

    Now the publisher for AACR journals pens this note

    http://cancerres.aacrjournals.org/content/78/17/5178

    yet still no action on the dodgy publications I listed above.

    COPE guidelines state:

    “Journal editors should consider issuing an expression of concern if:

    • they receive inconclusive evidence of research or publication misconduct by the authors
    • there is evidence that the findings are unreliable but the authors’ institution will not investigate the case
    • they believe that an investigation into alleged misconduct related to the publication either has not been, or would not be, fair and impartial or conclusive
    • an investigation is underway but a judgement will not be available for a considerable time”

    clearly applicable for the questionable papers listed above.

    Why do these editors and publishers write these editorials that they do not follow through on?

    What, if anything, do COPE guidelines mean?

    Really unfortunate that leadership on policing scientific journal articles is so unforthcoming.

  16. Until academic research by every PI and team is conducted in accord with GLP practices, and is supervised by a sound quality management system (QMS) that enables all data (hand written records, electronic media – including analytical machine printouts, storage media of electronic data, and hard drive stored data) to be audit ready and available for inspection by grant funding agencies, academic grad students, post-docs, PI’s and others in the research framework will continue to defraud, lie, cheat, synthesize, fabricate and misinform. The attraction and motivation for these disgraceful and fraudulent criminals is simple: 1) Grab more grants than “you”, 2) publish more papers than “you” , 3) Expand “my” empire, 4) Stoke the furnace of “my” ego, 5) to do everything possible – legal and illegal for “me” to be first. There is an inordinate amount of pressure on PIs to produce, publish and succeed. If that means cheating, lying, committing fraud and simply risking being a criminal and fellon and going to jail – these PIs who think they will get away with it – will risk everything.

    As a community and country, we need to be tougher, and more vigilant to seek out and deal severely with these abusers of the abusing few of the system. Fines, civil penalties and prison time should be part and parcel of the price of crossing the line and breaking the law.

    Scientific fraud has to stop and must stop. It is defrauding the intellectual truth and pursuit of honest reporting, and it is defrauding the tax payer and/or grant funding agency.

    Academic science and their PI messengers will soon be supervised by new policies and practices that will fine them, imprison them, and maybe even deport them, should any fraud and abuse of U.S. taxpayer funds be uncovered and proven. This has to end NOW.

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