Cleveland Clinic heart researchers earn two expressions of concern .

Cleveland Clinic

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Cleveland Clinic, via Wikimedia

A team of heart researchers at Cleveland Clinic in Ohio has received expressions of concern for two papers in the Journal of Biological Chemistry, which says the images in the articles appear suspect.

The papers, both of which appeared in 2004, come from the lab of Subha Sen, a highly-funded scientist who has received millions in NIH grants over the past decade. Sen’s work also has drawn scrutiny on PubPeer, with comments cropping up on the site roughly three years ago for many of her papers.

In 2016, Sen’s group retracted a 2009 article in JBC titled “A unique microRNA profile in end-stage heart failure indicates alterations in specific cardiovascular signaling networks.” According to the notice:

This article has been withdrawn by the authors. Evaluation by the journal with image analysis software determined that in Fig. 5A, lanes 1–3 of the RB1 immunoblot were duplicated in lanes 4–6, lane 4 of the ERBB2 immunoblot was duplicated in lane 6, lane 5 of the STAT3 immunoblot was duplicated in lane 8, and lanes 1–3 of the actin immunoblot were flipped horizontally and reused in lanes 6–8. The authors state that RB1, ERRB2, STAT3, and actin in Fig. 5A were created from phosphor-chemiluminescent digital imaging. The authors also state that they have replicate data supporting the conclusions of Fig. 5, A and B. In Fig. 6B, evaluation by the journal of the original data determined that single cell background fluorescence was duplicated. The authors maintain that the concern is about a single background cell not a positive cell to show transfection efficiency and is inconsequential to proving transfection.

Among the co-authors on that work was Carlo Croce, the embattled cancer researcher at The Ohio State University, whose most recent appearance in the news was his failed libel suit against the New York Times.

The publishing collaboration with Croce appears to have been a one-off for Sen; their names don’t appear together on any other articles we could find. However, they do share a patent for a method of assessing heart disease, according to this document. The technique relies on the use of microRNA signatures — which is the subject of the retracted 2016 article in JBC.

One of the new expressions of concern involves a paper titled “Cardiac overexpression of myotrophin triggers myocardial hypertrophy and heart failure in transgenic mice.” The statement reads:

The publisher of the Journal of Biological Chemistry is issuing an Expression of Concern to inform readers that credible concerns have been raised regarding some of the data and conclusions in the article listed above. The Journal of Biological Chemistry will provide additional information as it becomes available.

The second expression of concern, for “Myocardial Cell Death and Regeneration during Progression of Cardiac Hypertrophy to Heart Failure,” reads similarly.

Sen has not responded to requests for comment from Retraction Watch.

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