WASHINGTON, Sept 13 (Reuters) – Three medical journals recently launched independent investigations into possible manipulation of data in cardiac studies by Temple University researchers, Reuters has learned, adding a new scrutiny to an investigation into the misconduct by the university and the US government.
The Journal of Molecular and Cellular Cardiology and the Journal of Biological Chemistry are investigating five papers written by Temple scientists, the papers told Reuters.
A third journal owned by the Journal of American College of Cardiology (JACC), last month retracted a post by Temple researchers on its website after determining there was evidence of data manipulation. The retracted article originally concluded that the widely used blood thinner, Xarelto, could have a healing effect on hearts.
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“We are committed to preserving the integrity of scientific records,” Elsevier, which owns the Journal of Molecular and Cellular Cardiology and publishes the other two journals on behalf of medical societies, said in a statement to Reuters.
Philadelphia-based Temple opened its own investigation in September 2020 at the request of the US Office of Research Integrity (ORI), which oversees malpractice investigations in federally funded research, according to a lawsuit filed by one of the researchers.
The Temple investigation involves 15 papers published between 2008 and 2020 and supported by grants from the US National Institutes of Health, according to court records. Nine of the studies were supervised by Abdel Karim Sabri, a professor at the Temple Cardiovascular Research Center.
His colleague Steven Houser, senior associate dean of research at Temple and former president of the American Heart Association, is listed as the author of five studies supervised by Sabri. Houser was also involved in four additional articles under review.
Houser filed a lawsuit last year in federal court to stop the university’s investigation, saying Temple was seeking to discredit him and steal his findings.
Houser “has not engaged in scientific or other misconduct, falsified data, or participated in any wrongdoing with any other scientist or scholar,” Houser’s attorney, Christopher Ezold, said in a statement. a statement to Reuters. Houser helped revise and edit text portions of the studies supervised by Sabri and did not provide or analyze the data, Ezold said.
A Temple spokesperson said the university is “aware of the allegations and is reviewing them.” He would not comment further or discuss interactions with medical journals. ORI also declined to comment. Sabri and Houser did not respond to questions.
Several research experts have said that Houser, as one of multiple co-authors, cannot be assumed to be involved in potential misconduct. Ultimate responsibility for a study usually rests with the supervising scientist and any researcher who provided the specific data under review.
EXPRESSION OF CONCERN
The probes highlight concerns about potential fabrication in medical research and the federal funds that support it. A Reuters investigation published in June revealed that the NIH had spent hundreds of millions of dollars on cardiac stem cell research despite allegations of fraud against several leading scientists in the field.
The Temple inquiry also reveals a lack of consensus within the scientific community on how these concerns should be communicated, to prevent potentially bad science from informing future work and funding, according to half a dozen experts. in research interviewed by Reuters.
Temple did not inform the medical journals that he was conducting an investigation at the request of the US government agency, the newspapers told Reuters. They said they started their investigations independently.
Maker of Xarelto, the Janssen Pharmaceuticals division of Johnson & Johnson (JNJ.N), also told Reuters that Temple’s supervising researchers did not notify the company of the investigation or the JACC newspaper’s retraction, although two of its employees were listed as co-authors of the paper. Janssen said their contribution to the document was not questioned in the retraction.
In some misconduct investigations, universities have notified scientific journals that an investigation is underway. This allowed journals to issue an “expression of concern” about specific studies, indicating to readers that there may be reason to question the results. If there is a discovery of data manipulation, one would expect the journals to retract the article.
None of the journals that published the papers Temple reviewed raised concerns. They would not explain to Reuters why they decided not to.
“It’s murky because of a lack of resources for these investigations, there’s no standardization around the world,” said Arthur Caplan, chief medical ethics officer at the Grossman School of Medicine. New York University.
Other journals do not review the work of Temple scholars. Five ORI-flagged articles have been published in the AHA journals Circulation, Circulation: Heart Failure, and Circulation Research, where Houser is an advisory editor.
The AHA said it had not been informed by the US agency or Temple of their investigation and did not consider itself responsible to investigate further. The AHA said it issued a data correction to an article at the request of the authors. The article was the only study reviewed that listed Houser as the supervising researcher.
“The American Heart Association is not a regulatory body or agency,” the AHA said in a statement to Reuters.
Researchers and their institutions may be forced to return federal funding that supported work tainted by data manipulation.
Houser has received nearly $40 million in NIH funding and Sabri has received nearly $10 million since 2000, according to a Reuters analysis of NIH grants. Houser’s attorney said none of his NIH funds support the papers overseen by Sabri.
The JACC newspaper said in its retraction of the Xarelto research that it launched its investigation after receiving a complaint from a reader. In response, the researchers published a correction to some image data in the paper, which was supervised by Sabri and listed Houser as the author.
However, the newspaper said the correction raised other concerns, prompting it to hire an unidentified outside expert to review them.
According to the retraction notice, expert assessment found evidence of manipulation in seven images using a technique known as Western blotting, which determines concentrations of a specific protein in cells or tissues in different experimental conditions. As a result, the newspaper said its ethics committee voted to withdraw the article.
The NIH, ORI and Temple declined to say whether Temple would be required to return any federal labor funding retracted by the JACC publication.
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Reporting by Marisa Taylor and Brad Heath; Editing by Michele Gershberg and Edward Tobin
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