Update (March 15): The Lancet sent The Scientist the retraction notice, which states that the data from Harvard “cannot be held to be reliable.” The editors note that they believe the clinical work conducted in Louisville was done “in good faith.”
Since 2014, a paper in The Lancet describing the results of a clinical trial using supposed cardiac stem cells has sat with an editors’ expression of concern looming over it. Now, the journal has retracted the paper—the 16th retraction for Piero Anversa, formerly of Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
The Scientist could not locate a retraction notice, and the press office at The Lancet did not immediately respond to a request for information. (We sent the message after business hours in the UK, and will update this post once we hear back.)
In October, Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital determined that 31 papers from the Anversa lab ought to be retracted. By Retraction Watch’s reporting, it’s not clear whether the 2011 paper in The Lancet was among the 31, but the expression of concern came about because the institutions gave the journal a heads up that they were investigating the “integrity of certain data” in the paper, the editors wrote at the time.
The cardiac stem cells given to patients in the clinical trial have been the subject of intense scrutiny by outside investigators, who have found that these “c-kit positive” cells don’t have regenerative capabilities in adult rodent hearts. Clinical trials continue to use c-kit cardiac stem cells.
The first author of The Lancet paper, Roberto Bolli of the University of Louisville, stressed to The Scientist in a 2015 interview that the data underlying the problematic figures in the publication came from Anversa’s lab, not his own.
Unrelated to the current controversy regarding Anversa’s retractions, Bolli was recently fired as an editor at Circulation Research (which had recently retracted a number of Anversa’s publications) for sending homophobic remarks to the Louisville Ballet.