NEJM Retracts Another Article Associated With Piero Anversa, Investigates Two More

Doctor in lab coat stands with hands over his face

Another scientific paper has been retracted by the New England Journal of Medicine. The noted journal said it retracted a paper on evidence of human lung stem cells following an investigation that revealed images used in the article had been manipulated.

The Journal said the article authors said a review of the original data used for the article “affirms this conclusion and has led us to conclude that we no longer have faith in the veracity of these images.” The article authors claimed they were unaware of the manipulation until after the article had been published.

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The stem cell article came from a lab affiliated with Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women's Hospital that has been the subject of an internal investigation over concerns of data manipulation. The lab had been helmed by Dr. Piero Anversa, a pioneer in cardiovascular research and a proponent of cardiac stem cells, an idea that has been discredited due to an inability to replicate the research.

In addition to the retracted article, the NEJM also said it was investigating two articles published in 2001 and 2002 by Anversa over concerns of data and image manipulation. The journal, which published an “Expression of Concern”, said it was communicating with the authors of the studies, as well as officials at the New York Medical College where the investigating team laboratory was located at the time, concerning the veracity of the data. The two articles in question are “Evidence that human cardiac myocytes divide after myocardial infarction” and “Chimerism of the transplanted heart.”

“While we await the results of these communications, we are publishing this Expression of Concern to indicate that the data presented in the articles named above may not be reliable,” Dr. Jeffrey M. Drazen, the editor-in-chief of the NEJM said in a statement.

The decision to examine those articles comes days after reports that Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital called for the retraction of 31 articles published by Anversa, a pioneer in the field of cardiac research. The latest retraction and investigation of other articles associated with Anversa was first reported by STAT News, which also broke the original Anversa report.

Earlier this week Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital said it has reached out to the various journals where the questionable articles were published. At this time, it is unknown if those articles are being scrutinized for data and image manipulation. It is likely that some of those articles could be pulled as well.

In his research, Anversa focused on the idea that the heart contains stem cells that could regenerate cardiac muscle. Anversa and his team claimed to have identified cells known as c-kit cells that were responsible for that regeneration. Despite those claims, the work could not be reproduced by other labs. There are still some researchers who cling to the idea of cardiac stem cells, the general consensus now seems to be that the work was fabricated.

Anversa’s lab at Harvard was shuttered in 2015 and none of the researchers currently work for either institution.

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