Texas dept. chair no longer in position amid university investigation and retraction

Ramakrishna Vankayalapati

The chair of the Department of Pulmonary Immunology at the University of Texas at Tyler Health Science Center lost a paper last year after an institutional investigation found several issues with the data in the article.

Although the researcher, Ramakrishna Vankayalapati, is still identified as the chair on his online profile and the department’s website, he no longer holds that position, Retraction Watch has learned. 

The paper, “Ornithine-A urea cycle metabolite enhances autophagy and controls Mycobacterium tuberculosis infection,” was published in Nature Communications in July 2020. It has been cited 21 times, according to the journal’s statistics.

Soon after publication, scientific sleuth Elisabeth Bik posted several comments on PubPeer about similarities between images in the paper that she and a “reader” had noticed. 

“Thank you so much for letting me know,” Vankayalapati responded. “I will look at all data to proceed further. Thanks again.”

After two years with no further response, Bik posted again last July to ask if Vankalapati had contacted the journal. He did not reply. 

Last October, the paper was retracted. The notice detailed issues with the images Bik had called out in her PubPeer posts:  

The Editor has retracted this Article at the authors’ request. Following concerns from a reader, the authors initiated an internal investigation. After comparing the laboratory record and the figures, it was concluded that:

  • The data in Fig. 3c did not originate from three biological replicates as claimed in the legend;
  • In Figs. 3c and 5f, multiple lanes could not be matched back to the original raw data in the laboratory records;
  • The GAPDH bands in Figs. 3c, 5f and 6e could not be matched with raw data;
  • The LC-3B image in Fig. 5f was duplicated and rotated 180 degrees in Fig. 6e to represent p-AMPK (T172);
  • In Fig. 7d, the 4X and 10X images did not originate from the same samples;
  • In Fig. 7d, the 10X images of Mtb H37Rv + Ornithine and Mtb H37Rv + Imidazole contain overlap.

Further data similarities have been identified in Figs. 2j and S1, as well as within Figs. S5, S10, S11 and S16. In light of these issues, the authors have requested to retract this Article.

Ramya Sivangala Thandi has not responded to any correspondence from the editor or publisher about this retraction. All other authors agree to this retraction.

Vankayalapati has not responded to our request for comment. A spokesperson for the university confirmed that the school had conducted the investigation mentioned in the notice, and that Vankayalapati “is not currently the chair of the department of pulmonary immunology.” She declined to say whether his departure from the role was related to the investigation, citing a policy against discussing personnel matters. 

Larry S. Schlesinger, one of the coauthors on the paper, is president and CEO of Texas Biomedical Research Institute in San Antonio. Texas Biomed recently demoted the director of the Southwest National Primate Research Center after he admitted to the U.S. Office of Research Integrity that he had faked data. The institute initially said “the misconduct finding is not directly related to, and does not impact, his administrative leadership functions.” 

Regarding Schlesinger’s retraction, a spokesperson for Texas Biomed told us: 

Dr. Schlesinger’s involvement in this study was minimal. Dr. Schlesinger provided some guidance on possible direction in experiments, and they recognized this contribution in co-authorship. The study was not a Texas Biomed study, and the PI is not affiliated with Texas Biomed, so we were not involved in the investigation.

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