PIXABAY, STEVEPBIn 2013, Harvard University stem cell researcher Douglas Melton and colleagues described an innovative diabetes treatment that “could augment or replace insulin injections,” they wrote in a study published in Cell. The authors demonstrated that a hormone called betatrophin, or Angiopoietin-like protein 8 (Angptl8), could ramp up pancreatic β cell proliferation in mice, combatting insulin resistance.
But after multiple failed attempts to replicate the findings—and one study by Melton himself, published in PLOS ONE—Cell has retracted the paper. “I wanted to make sure anyone doing a PubMed search would see this is our present view,” Melton told Retraction Watch. “It would be most unfortunate if a lab missed the PLOS ONE paper, then wasted time and effort trying to replicate our results.”
The once promising results began to unravel in 2014, when an independent team of researchers at Regeneron Pharmaceuticals published a paper in Cell that found Angptl8 did not influence β cell expansion. But then in 2015, researchers managed to replicate Melton’s findings in rats.
Melton ultimately enlisted two other labs to help conduct a blinded experiment to determine whether his initial findings were correct. The initiative resulted in a PLOS ONE study in July 2016 that concluded that “the original paper describing the betatrophin hypothesis needs to be withdrawn.”
“It’s an example of how scientists can work together when they disagree, and come together to move the field forward,” Melton told Retraction Watch. “The history of science shows it is not a linear path.”