November 28, 2020

The Niche

Knoepfler lab stem cell blog

Harvard Sued by Anversa Over Stem Cell Paper Misconduct Investigation

Dr Piero AnversaBrigham and Women’s Hospital cardiac stem cell researcher Piero Anversa along with collaborator Annarosa Leri (pictured) are suing both the hospital and Harvard Medical School as well as leaders at the institutions over a research misconduct investigation focused on Anversa and Leri.

Boston Globe reporter Carolyn Johnson has been covering Anversa and for background on this new lawsuit she wrote:

Work overseen by Dr. Piero Anversa, a professor of anesthesia at the Brigham, was thrust into the spotlight earlier this year when one of his papers investigating the heart’s ability to regenerate itself was retracted after an internal probe revealed it had used compromised data. Another study overseen by Anversa that reported on an early clinical trial testing the use of heart stem cells in patients was flagged due to the ongoing investigation into the “integrity of certain data.”

Annarosa Leri

The issues with these studies prompted Brigham and Harvard to start investigating.

A key point of the suit against Harvard alleges that problems such as data manipulation in the publications were the sole responsibility of a former scientist in the Anversa lab, Dr. Jan Kajstura, and that Anversa and Leri are not responsible for these issues.

Remarkably, according to the Globe the investigation at the heart of the suit apparently examined and may have found evidence of alleged misconduct in more than 15 papers on which these scientists were authors.

The suit, which can be read here, asserts that the investigation has harmed the careers of Anversa and Leri. For example, the suits argues that the defendants:

“have caused and are causing ongoing harm to Plaintiffs Dr. Piero Anversa and Dr. Annarosa Leri’s (collectively, “Plaintiffs”) reputations and careers by conducting a procedurally and legally flawed investigation into alleged research misconduct at a Brigham laboratory”

There is a great deal of interesting information in the lawsuit document itself. For example, it provides a window into how Harvard investigates matters. It also details three initial allegations of misconduct against Anversa and Leri:

  • “Allegation 1 states that Drs. Anversa and Leri falsified and/or fabricated the C-14 measurements in the 2012 Circulation paper by (1) reporting 108 distinct data points when
    LLNL provided data for only 88 distinct measurements and (2) reporting 8 data points with values inconsistent with the measurements provided by LLNL.
  • Allegation 2 states that Drs. Anversa and Leri falsified and/or fabricated data in the 2012 Circulation paper by assigning isotope ratios to samples that have not been measured or reported by LLNL.
  • Allegation 3 states that Drs. Anversa and Leri “falsified and/or fabricated data relating to the characterization of stem cells” and notes that “[q]uestions have arisen regarding the reproducibility of the phenotyping of cell populations.”

A fourth issue apparently also arose later:

“On March 8, 2013, Dean Brodnicki informed Drs. Anversa and Leri that the inquiry would be expanded to include a fourth allegation relating to Dr. Kajstura’s apparent
manipulation of confocal microscope images in an unpublished manuscript submitted to The Lancet and Science in 2013.”

It’s not known if the examination of 15 additional papers has led to yet additional allegations, but it is possible and the plaintiffs dispute the expansion of the investigation:

“On October 2, 2014, Drs. Anversa and Leri were informed that the investigation would look into additional allegations concerning even more papers.”

The suit further alleges conflicts of interest by those doing the investigating and harmful delay in the investigation as well as other claims including breaches of confidentiality.

It’s unclear what the still ongoing investigation might conclude. Without all the facts it is impossible for us in the wider community to have a clear sense of this lawsuit and the misconduct investigation itself at this time.

Could this Anversa case have implications for the STAP cell paper situation as well where two Nature stem cell papers were retracted, which involved Brigham and Women’s and Harvard Medical School too? It’s not known whether these institutions are even investigating STAP.

What is clearer is the likelihood in a broader sense for more future lawsuits related to biomedical sciences publication issues and investigations.

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