Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital announced yesterday (October 14) that following an internal investigation they recommend the retraction of 31 papers by a former faculty member, cardiac stem cell researcher Piero Anversa, as Retraction Watch and STAT report. These studies “included falsified and/or fabricated data,” the two institutions tell Retraction Watch and STAT, adding that they have “notified all relevant journals.”
This is the latest in a series of black marks on research by Anversa, who claimed, as early as 2003, to have identified adult stem cells—dubbed c-kit cells—that can regenerate cardiac muscle. Efforts by other labs to reproduce Anversa’s findings and to use the cells to heal damaged hearts have produced contradictory and sometimes mysterious results.
In 2014, Anversa and coauthors had a paper retracted from the journal Circulation after Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s determined that data were “compromised,” as the retraction notice states. That same year, the Lancet published an “expression of concern” about the results of a clinical trial by Anversa, again after the institutions contacted the journal to warn them that some of the data were under scrutiny in an ongoing investigation.
Anversa’s lab at Brigham and Women’s closed in 2015. Last year, after disclosing to the Department of Justice that Anversa had won federal research funding using fraudulent data, the hospital agreed to pay the federal government $10 million to resolve the matter, The Washington Post reports.
“There’s been grave damage done to the field, and potentially a generation of young researchers who’ve come into the field of cardiac regeneration at a time that ideas that largely derived from what appear to be fraudulent papers have held a lot of sway,” Jonathan Epstein, a cardiologist at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine, tells the Post.
Researchers continue to conduct studies and publish papers based on Anversa’s fraudulent publications, heart researcher Jeffery Molkentin of Cincinnati Children’s tells STAT and Retraction Watch. “It’s just discouraging when you see these papers keep popping up,” Molkentin says. “There are no stem cells in the heart. Quit trying to publish those results.”
STAT and Retraction Watch report that “according to publications” Anversa “was most recently affiliated with the Cardiocentro Ticino and University of Zurich,” but that an email sent to his Cardiocentro Ticino email address came back to the sender.