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Oh No, Not Again! New Stem Cell Problems at University of Minnesota

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From the New Scientist:


LIGHTNING never strikes again in the same place? Tell that to the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, which has launched yet another inquiry into research at its Stem Cell Institute after New Scientist raised further concerns about papers that seem to contain duplicated and manipulated images.

Two previous inquiries have led to three papers being corrected, one being retracted, and a finding of misconduct against Morayma Reyes, formerly a PhD student at Minnesota. In October 2008, an expert panel ruled that Reyes falsified images in a 2001 paper in Blood (vol 98, p 2615), describing a versatile type of stem cell from human bone marrow (New Scientist, 11 October 2008, p 8).

LIGHTNING never strikes again in the same place? Tell that to the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, which has launched yet another inquiry into research at its Stem Cell Institute after New Scientist raised further concerns about papers that seem to contain duplicated and manipulated images.

Two previous inquiries have led to three papers being corrected, one being retracted, and a finding of misconduct against Morayma Reyes, formerly a PhD student at Minnesota. In October 2008, an expert panel ruled that Reyes falsified images in a 2001 paper in Blood (vol 98, p 2615), describing a versatile type of stem cell from human bone marrow (New Scientist, 11 October 2008, p 8).

Reyes, who is now at the University of Washington in Seattle, protested her innocence, blaming "inexperience, poor training and lack of clear standards about digital image handling". She also argued that she followed standards for image processing that were common at Minnesota at the time. So New Scientist decided to look more closely at other papers co-authored by the Stem Cell Institute's former director, Catherine Verfaillie, in whose lab Reyes worked.

In doing so, we stumbled across problems in the lab of another researcher affiliated with the Stem Cell Institute, Jizhen Lin, who published a paper including Verfaillie among the authors in December 2008 (American Journal of Physiology - Cell Physiology, DOI: 10.1152/ajpcell.00324.2008).

This paper explores how stem cells from the inner ears of lab mice can give rise to neurons and specialised "hair cells" that detect sound waves. The question is whether images of gels documenting the activity of various genes have been spliced together, and whether some bands on the gels have been duplicated. In one case, an entire gel appears to have been used twice to describe results for different genes (see images).

In April, New Scientist told the university of our concerns about Lin's work.The university took the decision to begin an inquiry in mid-July, but it has not clarified which papers will be covered. Lin declined to comment on the concerns about his work while the inquiry is under way.

Other stem cell biologists are disturbed that so many problems have been found in papers from a single institution. "It's pretty discouraging," says Arnold Kriegstein of the University of California, San Francisco. Given the pressure on scientists in such competitive fields, he wonders what might emerge at other research centres if their publications were subjected to similarly close scrutiny. "It raises serious issues about how widespread this could be," he says.


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