Harvard cancer lab subject to federal misconduct probe

Sam W. Lee, a Harvard researcher — or perhaps former Harvard researcher — who has lost three papers to retraction, including one from Nature, now has an expression of concern for another article, this one in Molecular and Cellular Biology.

The notice for that paper, 2000’s “Overexpression of Kinase-Associated Phosphatase (KAP) in Breast and Prostate Cancer and Inhibition of the Transformed Phenotype by Antisense KAP Expression,” reads:

The American Society for Microbiology (ASM) and Molecular and Cellular Biology (MCB) are issuing this Expression of Concern to alert readers to questions that have been raised about the integrity of the data in this article. MCB has been notified by Harvard Medical School about potential image duplications affecting Fig. 5A. ASM has reviewed the figure and confirmed the suspected duplications. This figure was generated in the laboratory of the first author. This Expression of Concern is issued pending the outcome of an appeal to the Office of Research Integrity (ORI) and will be updated accordingly.

That last line suggests that the ORI has issued a finding in a case, and that someone is appealing that finding. However, ORI typically won’t confirm the existence of an investigation unless they make a finding of misconduct. Asked to comment, Harvard Medical School said only:

We are fully committed to upholding the highest standards of ethics and to rigorously maintaining the integrity of our research. Any concerns brought to our attention are thoroughly reviewed in accordance with institutional policies and, where applicable, regulations in a fair and confidential manner.

It’s unclear whether Lee is still working at Harvard. [See update at end of post.] Two email addresses listed for Lee at Harvard’s Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and Partners affiliates bounced. One of his Harvard profile pages returns a 404 error, while another was still active at the time of this writing. The person who answered the phone at Lee’s lab referred us to MGH’s public affairs office.

The now-retracted paper has been cited 64 times, according to Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science.

Update, 1500 UTC, 4/19/19: MGH tells us that Lee is no longer working there.

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9 thoughts on “Harvard cancer lab subject to federal misconduct probe”

  1. How much money has this individual purloined from taxpayers through falsification and fabrication? How much of this was turned over to Harvard University as “overhead?” If judged guilty will this money be paid back? What additional fines will be levied on Harvard for failure to properly supervise this individual? Will he ever be able to steal money from taxpayers again? Who else within Harvard’s taxpayers supported Big Science complex knew about this, and when did they know it?

  2. The wording “pending an appeal to…” is a bit ambiguous. Just who is appealing: 1) a respondent or 2) the journal? Credit the journal here for publishing a EOC but still, given either possibility, why would any journal cede its responsibility to correct its own work product to what is, afterall, a legal decision made by other entities?

    If it is the first possibility (a formal appeal of an ORI decision) then investigative fact-finding has been completed, and the institution could request a correction without an ORI decision. HMS admirably did this in the “Anversa Case (with unique credit to Retraction Watch for ferreting out that fact).

    1. “HMS admirably did this in the “Anversa Case (with unique credit to Retraction Watch for ferreting out that fact).”

      Took 5 years. Institutions are allowed to act as courts, like the armed forces. They don’t need to ask their great-aunts, or the ORI, before getting on with it.

  3. 4 th retraction.

    Curr Biol. 2006 Dec 19;16(24):2466-72.
    RhoE is a pro-survival p53 target gene that inhibits ROCK I-mediated apoptosis in response to genotoxic stress.
    Ongusaha PP1, Kim HG, Boswell SA, Ridley AJ, Der CJ, Dotto GP, Kim YB, Aaronson SA, Lee SW.
    Author information
    Cutaneous Biology Research Center, Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Charlestown, Massachusetts 02129, USA.

    2019 retraction.

    1. 2019 retraction notice.

      466–2472; December 19, 2006)
      Current Biology is retracting this paper, which reports that p53-mediated induction of RhoE in response to genotoxic stress promotes cell survival in part via inhibition of ROCK I-mediated apoptosis. Several years after publication of this work, two corrections to this paper were published in this journal in response to reader concerns regarding apparent duplication of western blots and irregularity of FACS plots in Figures 2 and 4 (https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2012.11.007; https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2016.07.072). A review conducted by Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital has now identified further issues involving data within Figure 2. In light of the cumulative issues, we have concluded that the most responsible course of action is therefore to retract the paper. The corresponding author, Sam W. Lee, does not agree with Current Biology’s decision to retract the paper.

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