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Cancer Researcher Fabricated Data

08/17/2011
Andrew S. Wiecek

A former Boston University cancer researcher fabricated data in two published papers, leading to the retraction of those papers as well as a 2-year exclusion from federally funded research. 

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A former Boston University (BU) cancer researcher fabricated data in two published papers, leading to the retraction of those papers as well as his 2-year exclusion from federally funded research.

Sheng Wang, a former assistant professor at the BU School of Medicine, Cancer Research Center, fabricated data from RT-PCR and chromatin immunoprecipitation (ChIP) experiments in two papers published in 2009 in the journals Molecular Endocrinology and Oncogene, according to the findings of a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Research Integrity (ORI) investigation. Both papers focus on the tumor-suppressing gene HIC1, which is often silenced in cancer cells via hypermethylation.

Sheng Wang, a former assistant professor at the BU School of Medicine, Cancer Research Center, fabricated data from RT-PCR and chromatin immunoprecipitation (ChIP) experiments in two papers published in 2009 in the journals Molecular Endocrinology and Oncogene. Source: Molecular Endocrinology

In the Oncogene paper, Wang’s BU group, along with researchers from the Institut Pasteur in Lille, France, reported that they identified an HIC1 DNA-binding site in the promoters of E2F-responsive genes, which regulate the cell cycle and DNA synthesis (1). The paper suggested that HIC1 regulates cell growth and, when disrupted, leads to abnormal growth and cancer. According to the findings of the ORI’s investigation, however, Wang fabricated six of the seven figures in the paper.

In the subsequent Molecular Endocrinology paper, Wang and his BU colleagues reported that HIC1 must be present for estrogen antagonists—a hormonal therapy for breast cancer—to suppress breast cancer cell growth (2). The paper reported that breast cancer cells resistant to this therapy lack HIC1 and could be made receptive to the treatment by the introduction of HIC1. But again, the ORI found that Wang had fabricated six of the eight figures that supported these conclusions.

When presented with the misconduct findings, Wang did not dispute them. He agreed to retract the papers and enter a 2-year voluntary exclusion from participating in any federally funded research projects starting 18 July 2011.

The Molecular Endocrinology paper has already been retracted. The Oncogene paper is expected to be retracted, but Nature Publishing Group, which publishes the journal, did not respond to inquires about when the paper would be retracted.

The ORI’s decision resulted from an internal BU review, according to a statement from the university. Wang’s employment at BU has ended, but the university would not disclose any further details.

The first author on both of these papers that contained fabricated data was Wang’s wife, Baohua Zhang, who was an associate scientist with BU in addition to running a dentistry practice. The university did not comment on Zhang’s employment status.

The other coauthor of both papers is Douglas V. Faller, the director of the Cancer Research Center, whose National Cancer Institute (NCI) grants supported Wang’s research. Faller was unavailable for comment.

In 2009, Wang received a $217,000 NCI grant to fund a research project on HIC1 suppression of breast cancer growth. The future of the project, which is scheduled to end on 31 August 2011, is unknown.

Wang received his Ph.D. from Peking Union Medical College in China and completed his postdoctoral training at Columbia University and New York University. In 2000, he was recruited by BU to join their Cancer Research Center and eventually promoted to assistant professor. Wang’s research focused on breast cancer development, and he had previously discovered that tumor-suppressing gene PHB also regulates normal cell growth.

References

  1. Zhang, B., K.J. Chambers, D. Leprince, D.V. Faller, and S. Wang. 2009. Requirement for chromatin-remodeling complex in novel tumor suppressor HIC1-mediated transcriptional repression and growth control. Oncogene 28:651-661.
  2. Zhang, B., D.V. Faller, and S. Wang. 2009. HIC1 regulates tumor cell responses to endocrine therapies. Mol. Endocrinol. 23:2075-2085. (Not yet cited, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge.)

Keywords:  misconduct retractions ORI