A report published in the Oct. 19 edition of leading scientific journal Nature Cell Biology has been pulled after users of an online academic forum found that a National Taiwan University (NTU) research team led by professor Kuo Min-liang (郭明良) allegedly forged research findings using duplicated images.
The paper, which claimed to show how protease G9a could possibly regulate the proliferation of colorectal cancer cells and help scientists create new treatments, was trumpeted by the university in an online NTU newsletter last month.
Users of Pubpeer — a Web site that allows scientists to search for publications and engage in anonymous discussions — this month posted photographs taken from the NTU team’s research that claimed to show two sets of of mice implanted with colorectal cancer cells reacting to different protease treatments in an almost identical manner.
A user expressed doubt over the photos, saying that the authors could have duplicated them, using the same image to represent the results of different tests.
Posts on the Web site said that the researchers could have manipulated images produced by gel electrophoresis — a process by which proteins can be imaged — by rotating them and using different views as results from multiple tests.
Some images looked like they were partially duplicated and presented as different samples, a forum user said, adding that a number of protein electrophoresis images associated with an experiment did not seem to match up with images from a control group, which were shown in supplements to the paper.
NTU post-doctorate researcher Cha Shih-ting (查詩婷) — first author of the paper — said in the thread that she had “inappropriately duplicated” some figures in the article and that it would be retracted over “issues raised about academic ethics and her misconduct.”
Cha apologized for any inconvenience that errors in the research could have caused her fellow academics.
NTU secretary-general Lin Ta-te (林達德) said Cha had resigned from her post.
Lin said Kuo, who is also vice president of Kaohsiung Medical University, last week asked the journal to pull the article and reported the incident to the university.
The university would put together an academic ethics committee to investigate the incident, Lin said, adding that Kuo would be punished by an NTU evaluation committee for any breaches of academic ethics it finds.
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