Medical school dean up to five retractions

Joseph Shapiro

A kidney research group led by a medical school dean has accumulated five retractions. 

All five came within the last year, after commenters on PubPeer pointed out image similarities. 

Joseph I. Shapiro, vice president and dean of the Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine of Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia, is an author on each of the five papers and corresponding author for two. (Shapiro recently said he will be stepping down at the end of this month after ten years as dean, but will remain a tenured professor, according to a news report.) 

The corresponding author on the other three is Komal Sodhi, also of Marshall University. Neither Shapiro nor Sodhi has responded to our requests for comment, nor has the university. 

The latest three retractions, from Scientific Reports, have similar retraction notices. One, for the 2018 paper “The Na/K-ATPase oxidant amplification loop regulates aging,” states: 

The Editors have retracted this Article. After publication, concerns were raised regarding high similarity among the following:

multiple lanes within each of the Coomassie blue staining images in Figs. 3h, 6c, S1a and S2a;

DNP blot images in Figs. 3h (H2O2 + pNaKtide group), S1a (both lanes in Y group and left lane in O + WD + P group) and S2a (OB and O groups);

pSRC blot images in Figs. S2b (OB group) and 3i (pNaKtide, H2O2 and H2O2 + pNaKtide groups).

Further investigation has found that there are unexplained similarities between images representing different groups in:

Figs. 3a (Control and H2O2 + pNaKtide) and S4a (Control and UV + pNaKtide);

Fig. S3a (H2O2 + pNaKtide 1 μM and 4 μM, rotated 180 degrees);

Figs. S3a (H2O2 200 μM) and Fig. S5a (Ouabain 1 nM).

The Editors therefore no longer have confidence in the presented data.

Juan R. Sanabria and Nader G. Abraham agree to this retraction. Komal Sodhi, Jiang Liu, Rebecca Pratt, and Joseph I. Shapiro do not agree to this retraction. Alexandra Nichols, Amrita Mallick, Rebecca L. Klug, Xiaoliang Wang, Krithika Srikanthan, Perrine Goguet-Rubio, Athar Nawab, Megan N. Lilly, and Zijian Xie have not responded to any correspondence from the Editors about this retraction.

Sodhi and Shapiro did not agree to either of the other retractions, of the 2017 paper “pNaKtide Attenuates Steatohepatitis and Atherosclerosis by Blocking Na/K-ATPase/ROS Amplification in C57Bl6 and ApoE Knockout Mice Fed a Western Diet,” or the 2019 paper “The Adipocyte Na/K-ATPase Oxidant Amplification Loop is the Central Regulator of Western Diet-Induced Obesity and Associated Comorbidities,” according to the notices. The three papers have been cited nearly 70 times, according to Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science.

We reached out to Scientific Reports’ chief editor Rafal Marszalek and received a reply from a spokesperson for Springer Nature, which publishes the journal: 

We don’t have anything further to add to the retraction notices – we considered these cases very carefully and published the retractions once the investigations were complete.

The three retractions from Scientific Reports follow retractions from PLOS ONE and MDPI’s International Journal of Molecular Sciences last year, according to our database

Comments on PubPeer pointing out apparent duplications in images in the retracted articles began in September 2020. In response to one, Shapiro wrote

There are some artifacts induced on the old system we used for our Commassie staining that creates artifacts suggesting duplication of lanes. We’ve noted this on internal review of our data. Unfortunately, we don’t have that system anymore so we can’t explore that point further. As I said in response yesterday evening to a comment about other similarities of loading control western blots [RW: perhaps regarding a 2015 paper in Science Advances, which has not been retracted], the first author and I will review all data from this paper, regardless of whether editorial staff choose to investigate.

He later added

I’m sorry, I mispoke. We have been in communication with the editorial staff, and we have attempted to address the concerns raised about some of these data. We have repeated experiments, and we believe that we are in a position to correct figure where there were problems. Once the editorial office is satisified, we will make those corrections.

More commenters chimed in, noticing more image similarities, but Shapiro did not reply. 

After the retraction, Actinopolyspora biskrensis, the commenter who started the thread, wrote

To the authors who did not agree with this retraction: I remain puzzled why the authors did not provide the original uncropped scans. This paper was only a couple of years old when concerns were first raised. If the lab was unable to retain records for even a handful of years, this alone is cause for alarm.

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4 thoughts on “Medical school dean up to five retractions”

  1. Additional inquiries might be made of the University. If the data doesn’t exist on a 2018 paper supported by NIH, do they have to disgorge the money? (just kidding)?

    Acknowledgements:
    This work was supported by National Institutes of Health Grants HL109015 (to J.I.S. and Z.X.), HL071556 and HL105649 (to J.I.S.), HL55601, DK106666-01 (J.L.), and HL34300 (to N.G.A.), by the Brickstreet Foundation (to J.I.S. and N.G.A.) and by the Huntington Foundation, Inc.

    @thatsregrettab1, posting as Actinopolyspora biskrensis on PubPeer

    1. I noticed that, I also noticed Dr. Abraham had agreed to several of the retractions issued to him, I was hoping to hear from him, but I don’t think he replied to any of the pubpeer posts.

    2. it is interesting, I was looking at their papers and a few papers from Dr. Sundaram(the same school as Shapiro) popped out. funny I found an identical western blot in two papers one published in 2015 and one in 2018.

      Ezrin western blot Fig 4. In paper 2018 Plos one1 is exactly the same as figure 5 paper BMC2 Gastroenterology 2015 ?

      1- Arthur, Subha, Soudamani Singh, and Uma Sundaram. “Cyclooxygenase pathway mediates the inhibition of Na-glutamine co-transporter B0AT1 in rabbit villus cells during chronic intestinal inflammation.” PLoS One 13.9 (2018): e0203552.
      2-Singh, S., Arthur, S., Talukder, J., Palaniappan, B., Coon, S., & Sundaram, U. (2015). Mast cell regulation of Na-glutamine co-transporters B0AT1 in villus and SN2 in crypt cells during chronic intestinal inflammation. BMC gastroenterology, 15(1), 1-8.

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