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Former UPenn postdoc faked images

Nineteen manipulated images prompted two retractions, according to ORI

By | August 7, 2007

A University of Pennsylvania postdoc extensively manipulated data in three published papers according to an Office of Research Integrity (ORI) announcement released last month. "This is a fairly big case for us. There is a great number of falsified images," John Dahlberg, ORI's director of the Division of Investigative Oversight, told The Scientist. "I would say this is up in the top third." The postdoc, Kristin Roovers, was working on cell cycle dynamics in the lab of Morris Birnbaum at the School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia when the fraud was uncovered. The ORI investigation, published in the Federal Register on July 16, concluded that Roovers had faked 19 panels of Western blot data, which appeared on 11 figures in 3 studies published between 2001 and 2003, Dahlberg said. Two of the studies, published in Molecular and Cellular Biology and Developmental Cell, were cited 53 and 31 times respectively before they were retracted in 2006. Corrections were recommended for a third study, published in Nature Cell Biology, which has been cited more than 130 times. The case was flagged in the spring of 2005 by editors at the Journal of Clinical Investigation (JCI), who noticed irregularities in the figures of a paper that had been accepted for publication and was undergoing final revisions, said Birnbaum, who has served as a deputy editor at JCI since March, 2007. That study, a collaboration between Roovers and Birnbaum and Anthony Muslin of Washington University in St. Louis, examined the role of a protein kinase called Akt in cardiac hypertrophy in mice. Muslin induced hypertrophy either physiologically, by forcing the mice to swim, or pathologically, by placing a band around the aorta, Birnbaum said. Roovers used a more artificial model, in which the mice were infused with drugs or hormones. After sacrificing the mice, she sent the hearts to Muslin, who conducted assays to compare expression of Akt isoforms in the different cases. "Much of [Roovers'] data couldn't be manipulated because the analysis was done in Washington University," Birnbaum told The Scientist. However, he said, Roovers ran most of the controls for the study herself. The editors "found various pieces of Western blots cut and pasted either within a figure or between figures," said Birnbaum, who said. Muslin later confirmed the fraudulent JCI data in his own lab and published the findings. After the manipulated data were traced to Roovers, the university opened an investigation in July, 2005, and sent its findings to the ORI in December, according to Glen Gaulton, Executive Vice Dean of the School of Medicine at UPenn. Roovers first joined Birnbaum's lab in 2003, a year after completing her doctorate with Richard Assoian in the same department. She had moved with Assoian from the University of Miami, Florida, to UPenn when he took a position there, Gaulton said. She was "a perfect postdoc" and "an incredibly popular person in the lab," said Birnbaum. "Ironically, she was one of the smartest people there. People would bounce ideas off her before they came to talk to me." When Birnbaum learned that the figures in the submitted paper were manipulated, he said, he and Assoian closely examined Roovers' past work in both their labs. "If you look at the papers in chronological order, they have increasing numbers of manipulations, till we came to mine where basically all of [the images] were manipulated," Birnbaum said. The retracted papers examined the relationship between actin stress fibers and the protein integrin in Rho kinase signaling. "There's this long-standing question: What does tension do to promote cell cycle progression?" said Martin Schwartz of the University of Virginia, who was a co-author on the Nature Cell Biology study. "I thought [the Molecular Cell Biology study] answered the question." The findings, he said, suggested that tension triggers integrin clustering and integrin signals mediated cell-cycle progression. "It put integrin signaling in a primary role," he said. "I don't think any other studies have been directly based on that paper, but it has certainly affected my thinking on that question," he said. Thomas Stossel of Harvard University, who cited the Molecular Cell Biology study in his own work describing a novel intermediary protein in Rho signaling, said that the retracted findings were unlikely to affect the landscape of the field. "[The study] linked the Rho pathway to the ERK pathway," said Stossel. "It seems to me that someone else came to a similar conclusion." Assoian declined several times to comment on the case. "It is inappropriate for me to make any comment on the validity of the conclusions in the retracted papers," he wrote in an Email to The Scientist. "As formally retracted papers, they should no longer be considered when reviewing the scientific literature. As the [Nature Cell Biology] paper was not retracted, its conclusions are intact." "[Assoain] is the last person this should have happened to," said Schwartz. "He's a really careful guy. When we were working on this paper, we talked endlessly about every little glitch in the data and what everything meant." According to the ORI notice, Roovers has been banned for five years from working with any agency of the US government. Birnbaum and Gaulton declined to disclose contact information for Roovers, and other former colleagues did not return calls for comment. Birnbaum said Roovers had returned to Canada and had left research. Alla Katsnelson mail@the-scientist.com Links within this article: The Office of Research Integrity http://ori.dhhs.gov/ Morris Birnbaum http://www.med.upenn.edu/crrwh/faculty/Birnbaum/Birnbaum.html
K. Roovers and R.K. Assoian, "Effects of rho kinase and actin stress fibers on sustained extracellular signal-regulated kinase activity and activation of G(1) phase cyclin-dependent kinases," Mol. Cell Biol., June, 2003. http://www.the-scientist.com/pubmed/12773570 K. Roovers et. al., "Nuclear translocation of LIM kinase mediates Rho-Rho kinase regulation of cyclin D1 expression," Dev. Cell, August, 2003. http://www.the-scientist.com/pubmed/12919678 C.F. Welsh et. al., "Timing of cyclin D1 expression within G1 phase is controlled by Rho," Nat. Call Biol., November, 2001. http://www.the-scientist.com/pubmed/11715015 Anthony Muslin http://dbbs.wustl.edu/dbbs/website.nsf D. Secko, "Mending broken hearts," The Scientist, August 11, 2003. http://www.the-scientist.com/article/display/21524 B. DeBosch et al., "Akt1 is required for physiological cardiac growth," Circulation, May 2, 2006. http://www.the-scientist.com/pubmed/16636172 Glen Gaulton http://www.med.upenn.edu/camb/faculty/mv/gaulton.html Richard Assoian http://www.med.upenn.edu/camb/faculty/cbp/assoian.html Martin Schwartz http://www.med.upenn.edu/camb/faculty/cbp/assoian.html Thomas Stossel http://www.researchmatters.harvard.edu/people.php?people_id=749
Y. Ohta et al., "FilGAP, a Rho- and ROCK-regulated GAP for Rac binds filamin A to control actin remodeling," Nat. Cell Biol, August, 2006. http://www.the-scientist.com/pubmed/16862148

Comments

Avatar of: Fei Li

Fei Li

Posts: 1

August 7, 2007

I know I should be nice and not mention too much about faked data. However,it said there were 19 panels of faked western blot data but not indicated. \n\n[The editors "found various pieces of Western blots cut and pasted either within a figure or between figures"]. Some beginners may not well know what "cut and pasted " are accepted while what are completely not permitted. \n\nIt is a good lesson but also a chance for beginner to learn how to handle scientific figures without against rules. \n\nThanks.
Avatar of: Ross Miles

Ross Miles

Posts: 2

August 8, 2007

In response to Fei Li, this is cut and pasted from:\nhttp://a257.g.akamaitech.net/7/257/2422/01jan20071800/edocket.access.gpo.gov/2007/E7-13703.htm\n[Federal Register: July 16, 2007 (Volume 72, Number 135)] DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES, Office of the Secretary\n "Dr. Roovers' manipulations and falsification of data were \nextensive, encompassing 19 panels of Western blot data, appearing in 11 \nfigures in 3 publications from her research as a graduate student and \nher first postdoctoral position and in 9 panels of immunoblot data in 8 \nfigures of an unpublished manuscript.\n Specifically, the findings involved falsification by duplication \nand reuse of immunoblot data to misrepresent the results as data from \ndifferent experiments that had been reported in the following \nmanuscript and three publications:\n Figures 2C, 3C, 4D, 4E, 6C, 7B, and supplement Figures 1, \n2B, and 3B in a\n\n[[Page 38837]]\n\nmanuscript submitted to the Journal of Clinical Investigation entitled: \n``Akt1 promotes physiologic, but antagonizes pathologic, cardiac \ngrowth.''\n Figures 3A, 3C, and 4A in: Welsh, C.F., Roovers, K., \nVillanueva, J., Liu, Y., Schwartz, M.A., & Assoian, R.K. ``Timing of \ncyclin D1 expression within G1 phase is controlled by Rho.'' Nature \nCell Biology 3(11):950-957, 2001.\n Figures 1, 2A, 2B, 3A, 3C, 4A, 4B, 6C, 6D, and 6E in: \nRoovers, K., & Assoian, R.K. ``Effects of rho kinase and actin stress \nfibers on sustained extracellular signal-regulated kinase activity and \nactivation of G(1) phase cyclin-dependent kinases.'' Mol. Cell Biol. \n23(12):4283-4294, 2003. Retracted in Mol. Cell Biol. 26(13):5203, July \n2006.\n Figures 1C, 2C, 5B, 5D, 6B and 6D in: Roovers, K., Klein, \nE.A., Castagnino, P., & Assoian, R.K. ``Nuclear translocation of LIM \nkinase mediates Rho-Rho kinase regulation of cyclin D1 expression.'' \nDevelopmental Cell 5 (2):273-284, 2003. Retracted in Developmental Cell \n10(5):681, May 2006."
Avatar of: Genevieve Bart

Genevieve Bart

Posts: 9

August 11, 2007

It seems from the comment of her supervisors, that that postdoc was working around the clock and delivering what they wanted to see, on top of that she had (accepted) the additional work burden of listening and advising co-workers. in other words she was also expected to be a supervisor.\n"Gaulton said. She was "a perfect postdoc" and "an incredibly popular person in the lab," said Birnbaum. "Ironically, she was one of the smartest people there. People would bounce ideas off her before they came to talk to me." \nSo it seems the usual story of someone who did not believe that her career would survive telling unpleasant truth, like she needed more time to do the experiments (was tired, needed a life outside the lab , whatever else..) or that for some reasons the results were not the ones expected and she did not know how to make them right.\n\nOn the other end it seems that everybody is minimizing the effects of the fraud, not a good advertisement for the serious of scientists, somehow without making experiments one got the correct conclusion or the controls were useless anyway!?\n"Thomas Stossel of Harvard University, who cited the Molecular Cell Biology study in his own work describing a novel intermediary protein in Rho signaling, said that the retracted findings were unlikely to affect the landscape of the field. "[The study] linked the Rho pathway to the ERK pathway," said Stossel. "It seems to me that someone else came to a similar conclusion." \n\n\nScientific publishing needs sensational discoveries, scientist need sensational papers, how many (important!?) things are not mentioned because they do not fit that model, who really decides to ignore it the PI or the postdoc?

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