Leading journals have been urged to verify 31 articles they published on cardiac stem cells by a high profile US cardiologist after an investigation by Harvard Medical School found papers by Dr Piero Anversa contained fraudulent data.
The cardiologist was based at the Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital until 2015, when suspicions were raised about the work his lab was doing into c-kit cells to regenerate cardiac muscle, according to a report by the research integrity website Retraction Watch.
The journals in which the articles were published have not been named by Harvard, but they are believed to include Circulation and The Lancet. The NEJM has already published a retraction on one article and an Expression of Concern statement in relation to two articles from Dr Anversa’s lab, saying that the data presented in them may not be reliable.
In April 2017, the Brigham and Women’s Hospital agreed to pay US$10 million to resolve allegations by the U.S. Attorney’s Office that Dr Anversa’s lab fraudulently obtained grant funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
The Department of Justice said the problems with the work of the laboratory included “improper protocols, invalid and inaccurately characterised cardiac stem cells, reckless or deliberately misleading record-keeping, and discrepancies and/or fabrication of data and images included in applications and publications.”
“Individuals and institutions that receive research funding from NIH have an obligation to conduct their research honestly and not to alter results to conform with unproven hypotheses,” said Acting U.S. Attorney William D. Weinreb.
According to Ivan Oransky of Retraction Watch, doubts about the potential of cardiac stem cells to regenerate heart muscle were raised in 2014 article in Nature.
Researchers said that while they had confirmed that c-kit cardiac progenitor cells had the potential to generate cardiomyocytes, this was not at a level that was clinically significant.
“Our results suggest that the potential benefit of injecting c-kit cells into hearts of [post-myocardial infarction heart failure] patients is unlikely attributable to cardiomyocyte formation,” they wrote.
One of the co-authors told Stat News it was frustrating to see the ongoing influences of the many articles from Dr Anversa’s lab, which had a significant impact on the direction of research into cardiac muscle regeneration
“It’s just discouraging when you see these papers keep popping up. There are no stem cells in the heart. Quit trying to publish those results,” said Dr Jeffery Molkentin.