Most of problematic articles flagged in Japanese university’s investigation remain unflagged nearly a year later

National Cerebral and Cardiovascular Center

Ten months after a misconduct investigation into the work of a researcher in Japan four of his papers found to have serious issues have yet to be retracted.

According to an August 2020 report from National University Corporation Osaka University and National Cerebral and Cardiovascular Center Hospital about its investigation of  Takashi Nojiri:

Recently, a former staff member (researcher) of the Center’s research institute has been accused of writing 21 papers between 2010 and 2018 that belonged to the Center, and a fraud investigation committee has been established. Of these, 8 have been investigated (the remaining 13 have been investigated at Osaka University).

As a result … it was determined that there was specific misconduct (fabrication, falsification) because the researcher could not obtain a valid and scientifically grounded explanation. .. (In addition, two of the 13 articles surveyed by Osaka University were also found to be fraudulent.)

As our center, which must lead medical research in Japan, we take it very seriously, and we sincerely apologize to the people and everyone involved in medical research.

In the future, the Center will take this case seriously and make every effort to prevent recurrence to restore the trust of society, and each researcher’s awareness of research ethics. 

The Chairman will take the lead in working diligently on the points pointed out by the Research Committee, such as reforms, improvement of research capacity, and systematic response to the handling of research data.

Through these efforts, we will take responsibility to prevent this from happening again.

According to the Asahi newspaper, in January 2021, Osaka University halted a clinical trial by Nojiri’s group of a drug to treat lung cancer over concerns that his misconduct might be leading to patient harm: 

Osaka University decided to discontinue the clinical study, judging that it was a clinical study for which the scientific basis was not clear. Ten health hazards were reported for which a causal relationship with clinical studies cannot be completely ruled out. The hospital apologizes to the patients who participated in the study and continues to observe their health.

The investigation also found that Kenji Kangawa, the former director of the National Cerebral and Circulation Research Institute, bore some responsibility in the scandal for his failure to properly manage Nojiri, but that he was not involved in research misconduct. 

The report identified five papers that had serious issues. 

So far, only one of them has been retracted, a 2013 paper in the European Journal of Cardio-Thoracic Surgery titled “Low-dose human atrial natriuretic peptide for the prevention of postoperative cardiopulmonary complications in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease patients undergoing lung cancer surgery.”

Here’s the retraction notice

Following an investigation of the National University Corporation Osaka University, the authors requested this article to be retracted.

The committee that investigated this paper found that “data used in some graphs did not match the raw data in patients’ medical records”.

Following is an excerpt from the committee’s report:

Excluding examination date data, the committee tried to reproduce the graphs of CRP and WBC levels using the same raw data in the medical records. The committee found that: … the graphs in [this paper] could not be reproduced.

Based on these findings, the committee reached the conclusion that while the primary indexes were correctly set, the researcher under investigation had used fabricated or falsified data in the graphs illustrating the mechanism of how tiotropium or hANP worked to reduce postoperative complications.

Furthermore, the committee concluded that the co-authors had not been involved in the misconduct.

The articles flagged by the report are: 

As we reported in 2018, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences issued a four-page mega correction for a six-page 2015 paper by Nojiri and colleagues. However, that article is not included in the list of suspect work. In addition, a 2014 paper was also corrected in 2018, and Oncotarget has issued an expression of concern for a 2017 article, although the date of that notice is unclear.

Hat tip: Lemonstoism, author of World Fluctuation Watch, who made allegations about the case in 2018

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