NIH: Cancer Researcher Committed Misconduct, Revises Paper
An investigation by the National Institutes of Health has led to the retraction of a 2016 paper in PLOS Biology for manipulation of the data in the article. But the journal has republished a revised version of the paper — minus the bad data — on which the researcher found to have committed the misconduct remains the first author.
The original article, “Exosomes Mediate LTB4 Release during Neutrophil Chemotaxis,” came from the laboratory of Carole Parent, who was a cancer researcher at the NIH at the time it was published and is now at the University of Michigan, in Ann Arbor. It has been cited 93 times, according to Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science.
According to the notice:
After this article [
] was published, the corresponding author noted concerns about some of the reported results. In response, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) conducted an investigation and concluded that there was evidence of data fabrication and/or falsification in Figs 2 and 3.
Compared to the primary data, Figs 2A, 2B, 2C, 2G and 3H report images in which dots representing 5-lipoxygenase (5-LO) immunogold signal were added and removed in a manner that supported the article’s hypothesis.
Immunogold quantification data in Fig 2F do not provide a true representation of the experimental results.
Cell organelle membranes and/or subcellular vesicles were selectively added and removed in Fig 2G.
In Fig 2A and 2D, two images obtained from the same experimental sample are reported as representing different experimental results.
The scale bars in Figs 2H, 3D, 3H are not correct, and the quantitative measurement data shown in the graph in Fig 3D do not accurately represent vesicle sizes as per the raw data. The corresponding author confirmed that the scale bars were reported incorrectly in the indicated panels: they should have read 800 nm in panel 2Hii, 400 nm in panel 2Hiii, and 100 nm in Fig 3D.
In the raw image data for Fig 3H, only one exosome in a field of >30 was associated with CD63 immunogold labelling. As such, the figure legend description of this as “representative” of the overall results is not accurate. The corresponding author agreed with this but commented that the claim about the presence of CD63 on exosomes was supported by other results reported in Fig 3C, Fig 3F, and Fig 5A.
In addition, the NIH advised that questions were raised about the 5-LO blot in Fig 1C, and that per their assessment of the primary records, this issue was not fully resolved and the blot published in [
] is unreliable. The corresponding author commented that Fig 1C reports the correct findings and provided PLOS evidence from a replicate experiment that lends support for the results.
The notice adds that the NIH found that the first author of the article, Ritankar Majumdar — listed here as a former member of Parent’s lab — was responsible for the misconduct and that neither Parent nor a third co-author, Aidin Tavakoli Tameh, was involved in the deception:
All authors agree with this retraction. The first author, while agreeing with retraction, disputes the NIH’s finding of misconduct.
The corresponding author apologizes for the issues with the article and stands by the validity and reliability of the article’s major findings. A corrected version of this article with the problematic electron microscopy data removed and new data presented for Fig 1C and Fig 3D (now 2D) has been peer reviewed by PLOS Biology and is being published [
] coincident with this retraction.
Parent, the corresponding author, did not respond to a request for comment. We could not find contact information for Majumdar. Parent, the corresponding author, told us:
I cannot comment on this matter because HHS ORI has yet to finalize its investigation and report. My interest has always been in advancing the science and protecting the research record.
David Knutson, the senior manager for communications at PLOS, told us:
While the NIH concluded that there was evidence of misconduct, they also informed PLOS that they had reviewed the available primary data for this paper that could be identified and did not find any issues other than those discussed in the retraction notice. After internal deliberations, we concluded that results for which the NIH did not identify concerns could be considered for publication in a new article if primary data were provided to support the results. The 2021 article did not rely on any of the problematic data and was fully peer-reviewed for PLOS Biology; the reviewers were made aware of the history, assessed the work, and supported its re-publication.
PLOS Authorship policy
, “Everyone listed as an author should meet our criteria for authorship. Everyone who meets our criteria for authorship must be listed as an author.” We abide by ICMJE authorship criteria, which focus on contributions to the reported research and the manuscript, final approval of the article, and agreement to be accountable for the work. PLOS Biology requires all authors to confirm that they agree to the author list and contributions provided by the corresponding author. We follow up and take editorial actions as appropriate when concerns are raised, as we did with the 2016 article, but in accordance with COPE guidance PLOS does not adjudicate on issues pertaining to authorship. In this case, the 2016 article was retracted due to data reporting issues attributed to the first author, but the stated contributions provided for the 2021 article (see
) – for which no data concerns were raised – support inclusion of Dr. Majumdar in the author list. We have not received any concerns about the author list or declared contributions for the 2021 publication, and the misconduct concerns about the 2016 article did not pertain to data reported in the 2021 article.
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