• October 24, 2014

U. of Minnesota Panel Says Stem-Cell Scientist Faked Data

A panel convened by the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities has determined that a high-profile laboratory there falsified evidence in experiments on adult stem cells, according to a statement issued by the university.

The panel’s investigators concluded that parts of four images had been falsified in a paper published in the journal Blood in 2001. The paper reported that stem cells isolated from adult bone marrow could develop into different types of tissue, but researchers subsequently had great difficulty reproducing the Minnesota lab’s results.

The university said that the investigation had focused on two individuals: Catherine M. Verfaillie, a professor and former director of the university’s Stem Cell Institute, and Morayma Reyes, who was then a student in the combined M.D./Ph.D. program at Minnesota. The panel determined that Dr. Verfaillie was not guilty of the image manipulations. By extension, that would leave Dr. Reyes as the person responsible, but the university did not release the panel’s findings related to her because it considers information about students private and protected by state and federal laws.

Dr. Verfaillie has retained a position at Minnesota but has moved to the Catholic University of Leuven, in Belgium. Dr. Reyes is an assistant professor of pathology at the University of Washington, in Seattle.

The panel criticized Dr. Verfaillie’s laboratory for “poor scientific method and inadequate training and oversight for this research.” It contacted Blood and asked the journal to retract the paper. The investigators also found discrepancies with images in a second paper from Dr. Verfaillie’s laboratory, published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation in 2002. Those problems did not rise to the level of academic misconduct, the university said.

Tim Mulcahy, vice president for research at Minnesota, told The Chronicle that the case underscored the need for all universities and faculty members to be vigilant about misconduct. “The message here is that everyone needs to fulfill their responsibility to the public and to science,” he said. The university did not have plans to alter its policies related to training or oversight, he said.

The New Scientist, a magazine, first detected problems with images from Dr. Verfaillie’s laboratory last year. In an article today, the magazine quotes Dr. Reyes as saying that the problems with the images in Blood were “honest errors.” The University of Washington may investigate Dr. Reyes, according to the New Scientist. —Richard Monastersky

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