Maybe combining red wine and tea doesn’t kill tumors after all

According to the internet, Bear Grylls, the TV survivalist, said he “was always brought up to have a cup of tea at halfway up a rock face.” Which sounds too cute to be true and, given Grylls’ history of, um, buffing the hard edges of reality, almost certainly isn’t.

But Grylls appears to be far from alone in his tea hyperbole. A group of researchers in India has lost their 2011 paper in PLoS ONE on the synergistic effects of black tea and resveratrol — the compound in red wine touted as a fountain of youth —  on skin cancer for what (if we’re allowed to read the tea leaves) amounts to a cuppa apparent data fabrication.

Weak tea, indeed. And in mice, we should note, in a nod to “data thug” James Heathers’ most recent venture.

The paper, “Resveratrol and black tea polyphenol combination synergistically suppress mouse skin tumors growth by inhibition of activated MAPKs and p53,” purported to show that:

our results for the first time lucidly illustrate that resveratrol and BTP [black tea polyphenols] in combination impart better suppressive activity than either of these agents alone and accentuate that development of novel combination therapies/chemoprevention using dietary agents will be more beneficial against cancer. This promising combination should be examined in therapeutic trials of skin and possibly other cancers.

The paper has been cited 48 times, according to Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science. But comments on PubPeer paint a cloudier picture, as does the retraction notice: 

Following the publication of this article [1], the following concerns were raised:

  1. Figure 3A panel IV and Figure 3B panel IV appear to contain areas of similarity;
  2. Figure 3A panels I, V, and VI appear to contain areas of similarity;
  3. Figure 3B, panels I and II contain areas of similarity;
  4. Figure 3B, parts of panels V and VI contain areas of similarity;
  5. Figure 6 of a previously published article in the Journal of Food and Chemical Toxicology [2] by four of the authors and Figure 6 in this article [1] appear to contain similar figures: Figure 6a in [2] appears similar to Figure 6(I) in [1]; Figure 6c in [2] appears similar to Figure 6(III) in [1];
  6. Repeated regions of similarity in flow cytometry plots within Fig 6 IV, VI, and II;
  7. Figure 2A ERK1/2 (Total) bands in lanes 5 and 6 appear similar when adjusted for brightness/contrast;
  8. Figure 2A p38 (Total) panel lanes 2 and 6 appear similar when adjusted for brightness/contrast;
  9. Figure 2A ERK1/(P) panel contains vertical discontinuities across all lanes when adjusted for brightness/contrast;
  10. Figure 5 p53 contains background irregularities when adjusted for brightness/contrast such that lane 2 appears to have a background different to other lanes.

The authors have been unable to provide any primary data underlying the figures. The authors commented that the regions of similarity in histopathological images arose due to similarity in lesions studied. For the similarities noted in flow cytometry plots, the authors commented that this could have arisen due to similarity in equipment and protocols.

In the absence of the data underlying the figures and in light of the above concerns, the PLOS ONE Editors retract the article.

The authors did not comment on the retraction decision.

We emailed the corresponding author, Yogeshwer Shukla, of the Indian Institute of Toxicology Research at the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research in Uttar Pradesh, for comment but have not received a response.

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7 thoughts on “Maybe combining red wine and tea doesn’t kill tumors after all”

  1. There are many papers from this group are highlighted on pubpeer. The director of the institute should have initiated the investigation!

  2. https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/science/csir-orders-probe-into-journals/article27473309.ecen

    “CSIR orders probe into journals

    On June 3, the Council of Scientific & Industrial Research (CSIR) began an investigation into the large-scale manipulation and/or duplication of images within the same paper or in different papers by scientists at the Lucknow-based Indian Institute of Toxicology Research (CSIR-IITR).

    At last count, 130 papers published in peer-reviewed journals by scientists from the institution have problems with the images. A chief scientist at the institute Dr. Yogeshwer Shukla alone has published 40 such papers.”

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