WASHINGTON, Sept 13 (Reuters) – Three medical journals recently launched an independent investigation into possible data falsification of a heart study led by Temple University researchers, Reuters said, adding to a new investigation into alleged misconduct by the university and the U.S. government.
The Journal of Molecular and Cellular Cardiology and the Journal of Biological Chemistry are reviewing five papers written by Temple scientists, the journals told Reuters.
A third journal owned by the Journal of the American College of Cardiology (JACC) last month He returned After Temple researchers found evidence of data manipulation on the site. The revised paper initially concluded that the widely used blood thinner Xarelto may have a therapeutic effect on the heart.
Elsevier, which owns the Journal of Molecular and Cellular Cardiology and publishes the other two journals through Medical Societies, said in a statement to Reuters: “We are committed to maintaining the integrity of scholarly reporting.”
Philadelphia-based Temple launched its own inquiry in September 2020 at the request of the US Office of Research Integrity (ORI), which oversees investigations into misconduct in federally funded research, according to a lawsuit filed by one of the researchers.
The Temple investigation included 15 papers published between 2008 and 2020 and supported by 15 papers from the US National Institutes of Health. The nine studies were overseen by Abdel Karim Sabri, a professor at the Temple Cardiovascular Research Center.
Fellow Steven Hacker, senior associate dean for research at Temple and president of the American Heart Association, is listed as an author on five of the studies overseen by Sabri. House was also being investigated on four additional papers.
Hauter sued in federal court last year to stop the university’s inquiry, saying Temple wanted to humiliate him and steal his findings.
“Hausser has not engaged in scientific or other misconduct, has not falsified data, and has not engaged in any misconduct with any scientist or scholar,” Houser’s lawyer, Christopher Eisold, said in a statement to Reuters. Hauser helped with review and editing. Sabri’s controlled studies did not provide written parts and data or were analyzed, Ezold said.
A Temple spokesman said the university was “aware of the allegations and is reviewing them.” He would not comment further or discuss his relationship with medical journals. ORI also declined comment. Sabri and House did not respond to requests for comment.
As several research experts say House is one of several co-authors, it cannot be assumed that he is involved in potential misconduct. The ultimate responsibility for a study rests largely with the supervising scientist and the researchers who contributed the specific data under investigation.
The tests reveal potential innovations in medical research and concerns that support federal funding. A Reuters Examination Published in June, the NIH has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on cardiac stem cell research despite allegations of fraud against prominent scientists in the field.
Half a dozen researchers interviewed by Reuters said the Temple inquiry shows a lack of consensus in the scientific community about how such concerns should be communicated, to prevent potentially bad science from informing future work and funding.
Temple did not inform medical journals that it was conducting an investigation at the request of a US government agency, the journals told Reuters. They said they started their inquiry personally.
Manufacturer of Xarelto, a division of Johnson & Johnson Pharmaceuticals (JNJ.N), also told Reuters that regulatory researchers at Temple had not informed the company about the investigation or the JACC journal retraction, even though two of its employees were listed as co-authors on the paper. Janssen’s contribution to the paper is not doubted in the revision.
In some cases of misconduct, universities have notified scientific journals that an investigation is underway. That allowed journals to issue “statements of concern” about certain studies, telling readers that there might be reason to doubt the results. If there is a discovery of data manipulation, the journals are expected to retract the paper.
None of the journals that published the papers being investigated by Temple issued statements of concern. They did not comment to Reuters on why they decided not to.
Arthur Kaplan, head of medical ethics at New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine, said: “It’s bleak because of the lack of resources for these tests. There is no standard worldwide.”
Other journals are not examining the work of Temple researchers. Five papers targeted by ORI were published in the AHA journals Circulation, Circulation: Heart Failure and Circulation Research, for which House is a senior consulting editor.
The AHA said it had not been notified by the US agency or Temple about their request and did not consider itself responsible for further investigation. The AHA said it issued a data correction to a paper at the authors’ request. The paper is the only study under investigation that lists House as a 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 funds that support work tainted by data fraud.
House has received about $40 million in NIH funding and Sabri has received about $10 million since 2000, according to a Reuters analysis of NIH grants. Houser’s attorney said none of the NIH funding supported the papers under Sabri’s control.
The JACC journal said it launched the investigation after receiving a complaint from a reader discrediting the Xarelto research. In response, the researchers corrected some of the image data in the paper, which was supervised by Sabri and listed House as an author.
However, the journal said the correction raised additional concerns and hired an anonymous outside expert to review it.
According to the recall notice, the expert review found evidence of fraud in seven images using a technique known as Western blotting, which determines the amount of a specific protein in cells or tissues under various experimental conditions. As a result, the journal said its ethics board voted to retract the paper.
NIH, ORI and Temple declined to comment on whether Temple will be required to return any federal funding forfeited by the JACC publications.
Sign up now for unlimited access to Reuters.com
Reporting by Marissa Taylor and Brad Heath; Editing by Michele Gershberg and Edward Tobin
Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.