Painfully awkward: Duplicate anesthesiology study retracted

Sugammadex, via Wikimedia

A study that compared drugs used to reverse the effects of relaxants for surgery has been retracted because the majority of the results were already published.

The study, “Comparison of sugammadex and pyridostigmine bromide for reversal of rocuronium-induced neuromuscular blockade in short-term pediatric surgery,” appeared in the journal Medicine in February 2020.

The work found that the drug sugammadex worked faster than pyridostigmine in children undergoing surgery, and doesn’t appear to have anything wrong with it. But a study with the same authors and same name (barring a single uncapitalized letter) had already been published in the journal Anesthesia and Pain Medicine on July 31, 2019.

A look at the submission and acceptance dates reveals what happened. Technically, the Medicine manuscript was submitted before the now-retracted Anesthesia and Pain Medicine manuscript, October 22, 2018 vs. October 24, 2018. But that would count as duplicate submission, given that the papers are nearly identical. 

The Anesthesia and Pain Medicine paper was reviewed, revised, and accepted within six days, then published on July 31, 2019. Meanwhile, the Medicine manuscript was still working its way through peer review, and not accepted until January 10, 2020, then published on February 1, 2020.

The Medicine paper was retracted on June 12, 2020. The retraction notice reads:

The article, “Comparison of sugammadex and pyridostigmine bromide for reversal of rocuronium-induced neuromuscular blockade in short-term pediatric surgery: A prospective randomized study”,[1] is being retracted. The authors reported after publication that the data used in the article, aside from secondary outcome regarding postoperative agitation in children, have already been reported in “Comparison of sugammadex and pyridostigmine bromide for reversal of rocuronium-induced neuromuscular blockade in short-term pediatric surgery: a prospective randomized study”.[2]

The first and last authors and editors of both publications did not respond to multiple email requests for comment.

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