… in the Minneapolis Star Tribune notes that the most charitable description of what’s been going on at the clubby University of Minnesota medical school would be “bizarre.”
Thursday, February 22, 2007
As mentioned earlier in the PT, stem cell research is a hot topic and is done at The Stem Cell Institute at BigU - see label "stem cells" at left for earlier post.
An article appeared in the New Scientist recently (February 15) that indicated trouble in River City. This was pointed out to me by a colleague but I have not gotten a chance to report on it in detail. The newshounds at the Strib have beaten me to the punch and their article has just appeared:
Stem Cell Study Was Flawed, U Panel Finds
By Maura Lerner and Josephine Marcotty, Star Tribune
Last update: February 22, 2007 – 9:33 PM
Five years ago, a groundbreaking University of Minnesota study found that a type of adult stem cell in mice could have as much potential to treat disease as those taken from embryos. The research made headlines around the world.
But now both the university and the lead scientist, Dr. Catherine Verfaillie, acknowledge that part of the study was flawed.
The university took the unusual step of conducting an inquiry into the 2002 study last summer after questions were raised by a British magazine, New Scientist, about some of the published data. The magazine disclosed the incident in an article published last week.
An expert panel convened by the university concluded that a process used to identify the cells was "significantly flawed, and that the interpretations based on these data, expressed in the manuscript, are potentially incorrect."Political ramifications
Verfaillie's research was heralded by social conservatives who have pinned their hopes on adult stem cells as an alternative to using embryonic cells, which they oppose on moral grounds.
At the same time, Verfaillie's work had cemented the reputation of the University of Minnesota as a major force in the world of stem cell research.
Verfaillie, 49, ran the university's stem cell institute from 1999-2006 and now heads stem cell research at Catholic University in Leuven, Belgium, while remaining on the University of Minnesota faculty.
"We believe we did everything appropriately," said Tim Mulcahy, vice president of research at the university, who oversaw the inquiry. "From our perspective, this is now an issue for the scientific community."
Verfaillie said she requested the inquiry as soon as problems were brought to her attention.
Answering questions by e-mail, she wrote: "I knew that this was an 'honest mistake,' but that given the profile of the paper, of my work, and the political climate, that it could be construed otherwise."
How it began
About a year ago, Peter Aldhous, the San Francisco bureau chief of New Scientist magazine, decided to take a closer look at Verfaillie's work. At the time, he was writing about problems plaguing stem cell research.
Aldhous said he was intrigued with Verfaillie's 2002 study, which appeared in the journal Nature, because "it was a remarkable and exciting finding."
He said he wondered why no one else had been able to show, as she did, that a stem cell from the bone marrow of adult mice could turn into a wide range of other tissues, such as brain and muscle cells.
Aldhous and a colleague started combing through Verfaillie's published studies. And, he said, they found that she had published some of the same data twice, labeled differently, in two journals, including the Nature article.
"I wrote to Catherine saying that we'd noticed these duplications and asking if she was able to explain them," Aldhous said in a telephone interview.
Surprised, Verfaillie said she promptly notified the university. "I pride myself on careful presentation of data and was disappointed at myself," she wrote in her e-mail to the Star Tribune.
Mulcahy said that Verfaillie's prominence and the political sensitivity of the research made it prudent for the university to take a hard look at the questions raised by the New Scientist reporters.
Normally, the university would use its own academic staff for such a review. But this time two of the three members of the panel were from outside the university, he said. They concluded that the data had been duplicated, but that it was most likely an honest error.
Verfaillie notified both journals of the errors.
Editors at Nature said they are reviewing the studies and declined to comment further.
The second journal, Experimental Hematology, notified her Thursday that it plans to print her correction in June. "I don't see this as a major problem," said journal editor Esmail Zanjani.Disclaimer:
I have not reprinted the whole article, please see the Strib link above. I have simply tried to give an impression of the situation.
I know Dr. Verfaillie slightly and believe that she is a good person. I understand she bakes a mean quiche. If she says it was an "honest mistake," then I believe her. High stakes research, like high stakes poker, is intensely competitive. Under pressure, people make mistakes. This is partly a fault of our insane system for funding science nowadays. [End of sermon]
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