Ask a professor in Biomedical field how hard it is to get one research project funded by NIH R01.
Dr. Piero Anversa has led 110 of them.
Dr. Anversa, a huge figure in cardiac stem cell research, found his pathway to over millions funding by the discovery of c-kit cells-adult stem cells that can regenerate cardiac muscle back in 2001. This breakthrough exploration brought the good news to patients suffering from myocardial infarction. And, of course, to the ones were eager to commercialize the treatments.
Things were looking really good. (Sorry, the past tense here might have spoiled the scene.)
…until earlier last week, Dr. Anversa’s former hosting institute, Harvard Medical School announced to retract his 31 articles containing “fabricated or falsified data”.
C-kit cells never exist, as in “there are no stem cells in the heart. Quit trying to publish those results,” by Dr. Jeffery Molkentin, a professor at Cincinnati Children’s who was the first of the few to question Dr. Anversa’s work.
2001 to 2018. Why did it take seventeen years?
Though Brigham has paid $10 million to the federal government to settle, the reasons behind of the prolonged puncture of the c-kit bubble are worth discussing.
“Maybe experts were just too timid to take a stand,” says Dr. Molkentin.
Were they too timid to take a stand because Dr. Anversa was a “distinguished scientist” named by the American Heart Association? But do not data speak louder than figures? The big ones included.
Were they too timid to take a stand because numerous medical firms were beyond excitement to commercialize the treatments? But shouldn’t therapies be evidence-based?
Hm…never mind, they were evidence-based.
Imagine you were a young researcher in the field, and you knew it would be easier for you to get funded if you built on Dr. Anversa’s work. Moreover, you were leading yourself to promising payments because there were a number of firms awaiting for your clinical trials. Even you had not been able to find c-kit on your own, would you keep doing it?
The temptation is real. The cash flow that c-kit brings is probably the biggest reason why Dr. Anversa has been able to lived a noted scientific life for 17 years. In fact, just while you are reading this blogpost, there are still clinical trials based on Dr. Anversa’s falsified data running on patients with hopes of a regenerated heart. One of them died.
What is more heartbreaking?
The money-tracing rationale will be widely considered to be strategic career planning if Dr. Anversa’s data are truthful.
Can it be even more heartbreaking?
Followers of Dr. Anversa spread out across the world. Among the many key laboratories in China, only Dr. Zhou’s team published results stating the failure of finding c-kit, according to a corresponding post from a self-media in China last week. Five days after the post, the piece was removed from WeChat, the biggest social platform in China, because “the content of the post was against the rules”.
My hope is that, as scientists, famous or still new, their walk of research will not be strayed by anything other than the mere pursuit of science itself.
The night is getting darker, but even slim hope is still very much a hope.
Johnson, C.Y. (2018, October 18). Scientists argue heart stem cell trial should be paused. The Washington Post.Retrieved October 19, 2018 from https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/scientists-argue-heart-stem-cell-trial-should-be-paused/2018/10/18/c64e8622-d21c-11e8-83d6-291fcead2ab1_story.html?utm_term=.bbcf8d583767
Johnson, C.Y. (2018, October 15). Harvard investigation finds fraudulent data in papers by heart researcher. The Washington Post. Retrieved October 18, 2018 from https://www.washingtonpost.com/science/2018/10/15/harvard-investigation-finds-fraudulent-data-papers-by-heart-researcher/?utm_term=.bacd6f7185a3
Kolata, G. (2018, October 15). Harvard calls for retraction of dozens of studies by noted cardiac researcher. The New York Times. Retrieved October 18, 2018 from https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/15/health/piero-anversa-fraud-retractions.html
Oransky, I. & Marcus, A. (2018, October, 14). Harvard and the Brigham call for more than 30 retractions of cardiac stem cell research. STAT. Retrieved October 18, 2018 from https://www.statnews.com/2018/10/14/harvard-brigham-retractions-stem-cell/
Self Media Post (2018, October 17). Academic earthquake! One of the biggest data fraud in history. Many researchers in China might be impacted. WeChat.Retrieved October 21, 2018 from https://mp.weixin.qq.com/s/9zOiAkg6g_QTb1uXNJn2bw