Karen Ashe, a UMN physician and neuroscientist, has finally responded to the explosive Science report that was published last week, which alleges that key images from one of the most recent research papers on Alzheimer’s disease this century might have been intentionally made up, throwing off many years and hundreds of millions of dollars worth of research that had been funded by taxpayer money.
One neuroscientist and physician at Vanderbilt University, Matthew Schrag, came upon the controversial study while looking into an experimental drug for Alzheimer’s. The study, which was officially published in 2006 in Nature by neuroscientist Sylvain Lesné of the University of Minnesota (UMN), “underpins a key element of the dominant yet controversial amyloid hypothesis of Alzheimer’s, which holds that [protein amyloid beta] Aβ clumps, known as plaques, in brain tissue are a primary cause of the devastating illness,” stated Science.
Ashe portrayed herself as one of the victims of the scandal, making the claim that it was “devastating to discover that a co-worker may have misled me and the scientific community through the doctoring of images,”
“It is, however, additionally distressing to find that a major scientific journal has flagrantly misrepresented the implications of my work,” she explained, going on to add that the article, which had gotten input from a large group of top experts on Alzheimer’s, “erroneously conflated the two forms of Abeta.”
The Science report highlighted that the implication of the fraudulent work could mean that multiple hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer money handed out from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) might have been outright wasted and that the entire scientific field could have been searching in the entirely wrong way for the past 16 years in the quest for a cure for Alzheimer’s since thousands of studies were based on the study suspected to be fraudulent.
The authors “appeared to have composed figures by piecing together parts of photos from different experiments,” explained one molecular biologist and well-known forensic image consultant, Elisabeth Bik, stated to the publication. “The obtained experimental results might not have been the desired results, and that data might have been changed to … better fit a hypothesis.”
Schrag stated that his investigation into Ashe’s and Lesné’s findings had images that seemed to be doctored or improperly duplicated.
Dennis Selkoe, with Harvard University, who was an advocate of the research that Lesné carried out, finally concluded by reviewing the images that there were “certainly at least 12 or 15 images where I would agree that there is no other explanation” other than the images were modified intentionally, which he labeled as “very worrisome.”
Selkoe added that there were other red flags regarding Lesné as quite a few of his scientific comments “made no biochemical sense” to experts because “if it did, we’d all be using” similar methods.
After being called out about the alleged fraudulent research, which Selkoe labeled as “highly egregious,” he acknowledged that there is now “precious little clearcut evidence that” the specific amyloid-beta molecule at the core of the research, amyloid beta star 56 (Aβ*56) “exists, or if it exists, correlates in a reproducible fashion with features of Alzheimer’s—even in animal models.”
All of this has forced a large number of papers written by Lesné to be flagged by the community leading the investigation for other instances of fraud, which have caused corrections that have also been problematic.