Victim of trial by media

August 19, 2010

A year ago, the field of biomedical research dedicated to the molecular physiology of intercellular signalling was impoverished by the abrupt resignation of Annmarie Surprenant from the University of Manchester. Her creative and rigorous research had made major contributions to the field over 15 years and galvanised the interdisciplinary efforts of immunologists and biophysicists in the area relating to P2X receptors. Surprenant resigned as professor at Manchester in August 2009 and withdrew from science in the face of allegations that she had not properly marked the examination papers of undergraduate students.

We are a group of professional colleagues who regret the absence of Surprenant's vision and energy from our research field. Our enquiries suggest that the university appears to have seriously mishandled issues leading to her resignation. We have learned of a statement dated 10 December 2009 agreed between the university and Surprenant although never released publicly: "Professor Surprenant was employed by the University of Manchester from 1 March 2007 until her resignation on 4 September 2009. Her resignation drew media attention, some of it inaccurate. The university confirms that the marking of undergraduate examination papers by Professor Annmarie Surprenant herself has never been deemed unsatisfactory: however, she admitted to serious irregularities with respect to second marking of some papers.

"The university further observes that Professor Annmarie Surprenant enjoys a position of eminence in the international research community and that her research contributions to the institution were correspondingly strong."

This statement confirms the quality of Surprenant's marking of undergraduate papers and contradicts press reports of the time. We are concerned that Manchester overreacted to the media coverage, and that its actions undeservedly disparaged and expelled one of the leaders of our expanding research field.

Alexei Verkhratsky, University of Manchester; David A. Brown, FRS, University College London; Geoffrey Burnstock, FRS, UCL; George Dubyak, Case Western Reserve University; Francesco Di Virgilio, University of Ferrara; Oleg Krishtal, National Academy of Sciences, Ukraine.

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