Posts Tagged ‘Levon Khachigian’

Multiple investigations of multiple allegations of image manipulation at University of New South Wales

October 22, 2013

A supposedly game changing skin cancer drug, a number of retractions of papers, drug trials suspended, allegations of image manipulation, allegations of misconduct from other noted scientists and at least 3 different investigations by his Univesrity, surround Professor Levon Khachigian of the School of Medical Sciences at the University of New South Wales.

At least 6 papers are involved (of which 4 have already been retracted). The University is facing criticism for the pace of their investigations and there are some suggestions that commercial interests may be involved.

ABC News reports:

Research overseen by an eminent scientist at the University of New South Wales is again under investigation following concerns about alleged research misconduct.

The latest allegations centre on a scientific paper into the genetics of heart disease co-authored by Professor Levon Khachigian.

A research team overseen by Professor Khachigian has received many grants from bodies such as the National Health and Medical Research Council, including an $8.3 million grant for 2014 looking at cardiovascular disease research.

The research in question was published in the journal PLOS One in July 2012.

It focused on how muscle cells change into plaque – a key cause of heart attacks.

A scientist complained to the university, saying he believed one of the images appeared to have been manipulated. A letter sent to the university’s vice chancellor of research says “in figure 5, one of the panels has been duplicated, rotated 180 degrees and then used to represent cells treated with a different compound.”

“If anomalies are found, it will be necessary to (conduct interviews) individually to determine who was responsible and whether they were deliberate or accidental,” it says.

The university has conducted an initial investigation and the ABC understands it believes there is a prima facie case of research misconduct.

Professor Khachigian was in the news earlier this year about image manipulation and the suspension of the skin cancer drug DZ13.

ABC News (August 2013):

Clinical trials of an experimental cancer drug have been suspended after serious questions have been raised about the accuracy of some of the scientific data behind it.

The ABC has learnt that the University of New South Wales (UNSW) is investigating a number of allegations concerning the science and data underpinning the DZ13 compound.

DZ13 was developed by an Australian team of researchers led by Professor Levon Khachigian and heralded as a super drug in the fight against skin cancer.

Two investigations conducted at the UNSW into allegations against Professor Khachigian and his team found that there was no evidence of research misconduct.

But the current investigation was prompted by further concerns raised separately by an eminent Australian scientist and one of the former researchers on DZ13.

Both are concerned that images in a paper on DZ13, published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry in 2010, may not be genuine. ……

….. Professor David Vaux is an internationally acclaimed cell scientist at Melbourne’s Walter and Eliza Hall Institute and lectures worldwide on research ethics.

“I think that anybody who has concerns of scientific misconduct, there’s an ethical responsibility for them to raise those concerns with either the designated person to receive allegations of misconduct or with the journal editors or with the authors of the paper,” he said.

In late 2009, he came across images in three papers from Professor Khachigian’s lab relating to genetic research in the Journal of Biological Chemistry that he was concerned were inappropriately duplicated. 

He wrote twice to the journal about his concerns that the images were not genuine.

In July 2010, the three papers were retracted by the authors, who said that the presentation of the images was a genuine error.

In February this year, Professor Vaux came across another paper in the Journal of Biological Chemistry that he said raised similar concerns of image duplication. This paper was focusing on DZ13.

Professor Vaux says this time there was more urgency, as the paper gave support to DZ13, which was about to be administered to patients in clinical trials.

He wrote to the vice-president and deputy vice-chancellor (research) at the University of New South Wales, Professor Les Field, asking for him to carry out an investigation.

I wish to alert you to concerns I have over a possible case of research misconduct at the UNSW. In the paper attached I have annotated the images that I am concerned about…

They appear to contain duplications and/or alterations of images in such a way that the same data is used to represent two different conditions.

Professor Vaux also contacted the National Health and Medical Research Council in June.

I believe it would be important to act quickly, as patients may currently be receiving the agent described in the publication, DZ13, as part of a clinical trial.

If the results in this paper are not genuine, the Human Research Ethics Committee that approved the trial might have been misled, and the patients receiving the drug might not have been able to give properly informed consent.

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