Edinburgh requests retraction of papers by sacked cell biologist

Investigation into Irina Stancheva confirms five cases of misconduct, but former lecturer denies manipulating data

July 23, 2018
Source: iStock

A university has requested the retraction of a string of journal papers by a prominent molecular cell biologist after an investigation revealed multiple cases of research misconduct.

Irina Stancheva was removed from her post as a lecturer and senior research fellow at the University of Edinburgh in June 2017, after more than 20 years at the institution.

The dismissal came two years after a number of Dr Stancheva’s published papers were flagged for suspected data manipulation, including duplication of images and reuse of data, on the journal community website PubPeer.

Now the university has confirmed that it has requested the retraction of five of Dr Stancheva’s articles.

“The university, in accordance with its formal research misconduct policy, has investigated and upheld allegations against one of our researchers,” an Edinburgh spokesman told Times Higher Education. “As a result, the researcher was dismissed from the university. We do not comment on the detail of disciplinary issues.”

In a statement, Dr Stancheva denied any wrongdoing.

“The papers in question represent years of hard laboratory work,” she said. “I have never misrepresented or manipulated data with Photoshop or any other software. Most of the results reported in these papers have been independently reproduced by other laboratories, and I don’t see how the scientific community will benefit from such retractions.”

Concerns were raised about 12 papers co-authored by Dr Stancheva, published between 1997 and 2011, but only five were confirmed to be suspect by university investigators.

For one of the papers, published by Molecular Cell in September 2005, Dr Stancheva was found to have contributed “only one figure”. As such, “the appropriate action should be considered by the journal editor”, a note from the university stated. Two more papers published in the same journal, on which Dr Stancheva is listed as a lead author, have been recommended for full retraction by her former head of department, David Gray.

Professor Gray, who is head of the School of Biological Sciences at Edinburgh, also requested a partial retraction of the manipulated figures found in two more papers published in the journals Genes & Development and EMBO in 2000 and 2001, respectively.

“Other papers investigated were not found to have any image manipulation,” the university confirmed.

An email sent from Professor Gray to department members in June 2017 and leaked to the Forbetterscience misconduct blog alerted staff to Dr Stancheva’s dismissal, adding that there was evidence that some individuals “may have been aware of issues” but “did not feel they could raise concerns through the appropriate channels, or did not know how to do so”.

“I want to state the obvious and emphasise that we expect the highest standards of research and professional integrity from all staff in all areas of work,” Professor Gray said. “Should you have any doubt, please seek advice from a senior colleague or member of admin staff.”

No other researchers linked to Dr Stancheva’s work were found to be involved in any incidents of misconduct, Edinburgh said.


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