Exclusive: Researcher has “ceased employment” at university amid investigation and retraction 

Gilles J. Guillemin

A neurology researcher in Australia is no longer employed at his former university in the midst of a research misconduct investigation, Retraction Watch has learned. And the work of a co-author at another institution also is being assessed for possible research misconduct after sleuths alerted the university to comments on PubPeer about potential data issues in his papers. 

The retracted article, “Changes in Cathepsin D and Beclin-1 mRNA and protein expression by the excitotoxin quinolinic acid in human astrocytes and neurons,” was published in Metabolic Brain Disease in 2014 and has been cited 13 times, according to Clarivate’s Web of Science. 

The journal’s editor-in-chief, Gregory Konat, retracted the paper because several of the western blots appeared to be duplicated and he no longer had confidence in the results, according to the retraction notice. The six authors are researchers from the University of New South Wales (UNSW), Macquarie University and St Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney. 

All but one of them agreed with the retraction; first author Nady Braidy, a senior research fellow at UNSW’s Centre for Healthy Brain Ageing, did not respond to correspondence from the editor, according to the notice. The corresponding author, Gilles Guillemin, is no longer employed as a neuroscience professor at Macquarie University as the institution investigates some of his work, Retraction Watch has learned. Guillemin is a Member of the Order of Australia.

Anonymous commenters on PubPeer first pointed out potential data anomalies in the paper in September 2021. Two Australian researchers, Simon Gandevia, deputy director of NeuRA, and David Vaux, an honorary research fellow and retired deputy director of the Walter & Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, contacted the editor of Metabolic Brain Disease to ask for an investigation into the paper in October 2021, citing the PubPeer comments. (Vaux is also on the board of directors of Retraction Watch’s parent nonprofit, the Center for Scientific Integrity.)

In March 2023, the journal’s publisher wrote back to Gandevia confirming that an investigation was underway by their in-house research integrity group. Three months later, the paper was retracted. 

Vaux says he became interested in the paper after reading a post about Guillemin on Leonid Schneider’s blog. By our count, one of Guillemin’s papers has previously been retracted, and another marked with an expression of concern. Vaux noticed several papers that were flagged for potential data duplication on PubPeer were also co-authored with Braidy. 

“We don’t know which of the authors are responsible, whether it’s Braidy or whether it’s one of the other authors,” Vaux says. “We’re just ringing the alarm bell.”

This retraction is Braidy’s first. Two of his publications have been corrected, one has received an expression of concern, and another is under investigation

“I saw all of these postings about all of these papers,” Vaux says. “I thought ‘well, given past history, it’s quite likely that the universities won’t take any action unless somebody makes an official complaint.'”

Gandevia — who has taken an active interest in scientific integrity — and Vaux alerted UNSW to the PubPeer comments about Braidy’s papers in September 2021. 

In a letter to several university officials they wrote: 

The evidence presented on PubPeer is very difficult to dismiss as the result of chance of innocent mistake, leaving the remaining explanation deliberate falsification or fabrication of data.

In January 2023, Vaux was told that the case was still in the preliminary assessment stage – an assessment of whether the complaint constitutes a breach of the university’s code and requires further investigation. 

He wrote to Attilla Brungs, UNSW’s vice chancellor, in March, alleging that the university’s handling of the case was not timely and constituted a breach of the Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research

Brungs wrote back: 

I do appreciate that this investigation is taking a significant amount of time, as warranted by its complexity. I would also like to highlight again for you that UNSW has a far more extensive and rigorous preliminary assessment process that perhaps some other institutions do not have. This allows UNSW to generally ensure more efficient outcomes in most cases.

When we emailed Brungs to follow up on the case, a spokesperson for UNSW responded: 

UNSW Sydney is aware of the concerns, and we are managing these concerns in accordance with our Research Misconduct Procedure. It would be inappropriate to comment any further at this stage.

“I think the problem is that the university’s office for handling research misconduct allegations is not competent,” Vaux said. 

In September 2021, Vaux also forwarded the PubPeer comments on Guillemin’s papers to the research integrity office at Macquarie University. 

In January 2023, Macquarie University’s director of research ethics and integrity wrote to Vaux that their preliminary assessment had found ten of Guillemin’s papers had a potential breach of the university’s research code, and that four of them required further investigation. 

In an email to Retraction Watch, a spokesperson for the university wrote: 

Macquarie University is aware of the concerns, and they are being managed in accordance with the University’s Research Code Procedure. We note that Professor Gilles Guillemin has ceased employment at Macquarie University. 

We have not received confirmation of when or why Guillemin left Macquarie. According to the spokesperson, “it is not the University’s place to disclose that information.” But since we started reporting this story on June 14, the webpage for Guillemin’s lab is now no longer accessible and has been removed from the website of Macquarie University’s Centre for Motor Neuron Disease Research. 

Braidy and Guillemin did not respond to a request for comment. 

Universities in Australia self-regulate cases of research misconduct. Vaux says the lack of a national office for research integrity makes this process inefficient. “Australia should be embarrassed because we’re behind, falling further behind the rest of the world,” he says.

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