In a stunner, Harvard and Brigham & Women’s Hospital reportedly have jointly called for the retraction of 31 papers on heart stem cell research authored by embattled heart stem cell researcher Piero Anversa.
The scoop on this by STAT/Retraction Watch written by Ivan Oransky and Adam Marcus gives further details on this mess and past travails of Anversa. He was the prime proponent of the idea of endogenous heart stem cells in adults, but things have gone south since his prime time as a researcher. For instance, Anversa at one point not so long ago had sued Harvard for suggesting another of his papers had problematic issues. He lost that case.
Note that so far Harvard/Brigham initially made no announcement on the request for 31 retractions so kudos to Oransky and Marcus for putting the story together behind the scenes.
They report that this situation has been more than a pain for Harvard/Brigham over the last few years:
“Last year, the hospital agreed to a $10 million settlement with the U.S. government over allegations Anversa and two colleagues’ work had been used to fraudulently obtain federal funding.”
Yeah, it’s risen to the level of an ongoing debacle and many people and labs have been substantially harmed by this, but hopefully this slew of retractions together is a turning point to resolve the situation. Maybe it’s a positive step in that sense?
Some folks are suggesting that this development marks the end of the idea of endogenous adult heart stem cells. Also, the same fate may await another one of his claims that bone marrow cells could make heart cells. I’m betting many won’t give up on these ideas, but this sure makes the already existing dents in the ideas much larger.
I wonder how many millions of dollars of precious research funding from NIH and AHA or other funders were already wasted directly or indirectly? What about the patients? I didn’t see any clinical trials listed on Clinicaltrials.gov with Anversa mentioned, but it’s possible I missed a few or that some other trials were based on the problematic work.
Carolyn Y. Johnson over at WaPo now has a more in depth piece that includes a Harvard/Brigham statement:
“Following a review of research conducted in the former lab of Piero Anversa, we determined that 31 publications included falsified and/or fabricated data, and we have notified all relevant journals,” Harvard and Brigham said in a joint statement, without specifying the work affected.”
Anversa couldn’t be reached by The WaPo.
What’s the future of heart stem cell research? It’s important to stress that potentially valuable clinical and translational heart stem cell research will continue that is based on transplantation of other stem cells or stem cell-derived cardiomyocytes into the heart, rather than relying on an endogenous population that may not exist or some odd transdifferentiation event of injected bone marrow cells.
Elsewhere in the body, for some scientists the idea of stem cells in the adult human brain remains unsettled as well. My view is that there definitely are adult brain stem cells. Do you think basically every adult organ (except maybe heart?) has a complement of some multipotent stem cells, perhaps for homeostasis and repair?