Researcher and biotech founder in Ireland issues four retractions

An award-winning researcher and founder of a biotech company based in Ireland has retracted four papers and corrected another.

In the last few weeks, Therese Kinsella — a professor at the University of College of Dublin (UCD) — has issued a correction and three retractions in the Journal of Biological Chemistry (JBC) of papers dating back to 2001, and retracted a 2012 paper in the Journal of Lipid Research.

The retraction notices describe image manipulations, but add that the authors stand by the results. The corrected paper discloses a “possible duplication,” and presents replicated data.

Kinsella is the founder and Chief Scientific Officer of ATXA Therapeutics Limited, a UCD spinoff developing drugs for pulmonary arterial hypertension which recently secured €2.5 million in public funding. Most of her retracted papers investigate the molecular biology of prostacyclin, a synthetic form of which is used to treat pulmonary arterial hypertension.

Kinsella is now up to six retractions, one expression of concern, and at least seven corrections. In 2016, she retracted two 13-year-old papers from JBC, one of which was co-authored by Sinead Miggin at Maynooth University. Miggin is also a co-author on one of the latest retractions and the correction.

Miggin may be familiar to some readers — the interpersonal web is a bit complicated, so bear with us. In 2014, Miggin issued two retractions in JBC, triggering an investigation into co-author Aisha Qasim Butt. In 2015, Maynooth University revoked Butt’s PhD after she admitted to “falsification and misrepresentation” of data in both studies as well as her PhD thesis. Miggin and two other researchers were cleared by Maynooth University; Butt and Kinsella have never co-authored a paper together.

Kinsella said she was traveling and had nothing to add to why the researchers chose to retract the papers, given the notices are “detailed and fully inclusive:”

Errors do and can occur during figure or manuscript preparation that can go unnoticed by the corresponding author, reviewer or publisher.  In respecting the exacting standards of both the laboratory and the journal, all authors concerned were in agreement to voluntary withdraw the manuscripts but in all cases the conclusions or findings from the work are unaffected.

In 2016, Kinsella told us the issues with the two previously retracted papers “came as a complete surprise,” and would be the subject of a UCD probe; a spokesperson for UCD confirmed to us at that time that a probe was underway.

We’ve contacted UCD to ask about the latest notices, and for information about the probe, but they were unable to provide a comment by deadline.

According to Kinsella’s bio, she received the gold medal in biochemistry from the Biochemical Society (IAS) in 2008, and is an elected member of the Royal Irish Academy.

Here’s the most detailed notice from one of the JBC retractions:

This article has been withdrawn by the authors. After reviewing the data, the corresponding author learned that there were errors in how some of the microscope images of this manuscript were prepared for presentation. The authors wish to withdraw the article in the interests of maintaining their publication standards and those of the journal. After reviewing the data, the corresponding author learned that there was masking of background surrounding the cell/region of interest in 3 subpanels of Fig. 3C (hIPC308,309S, 0 hr; hIPC309S, 4 hr; hIPC311S, 4 hr), in 1 subpanel of Fig. 4A(hIPWT, 0 hr, non-permeabilized), and in 2 subpanels of Fig. 5B (hIPWT, 2 hr, Anti-HA; hIPWT, 2 hr, GFP), which was not specified in the corresponding figures or legends. In addition, one image was displayed twice in both Fig. 3C (hIPWT, 2 hr) and in Fig. 8C(hIPWT, 2 hr), which was not specified in the figure legend. The authors state that these errors did not impact the findings or overall conclusions of the published article. The authors stand by the original scientific results as published. The authors apologize for the errors, but wish to voluntarily withdraw the article to respect the highest standards of transparency and reliability of their research and of the JBC. Replica data sets for each of the figures in question that the authors state fully validate the findings and conclusions of the published article are available. A revised version of the manuscript with those replica data sets can be obtained by contacting the corresponding author.

Interaction of the human prostacyclin receptor with Rab11. Characterization of a novel Rab11 binding domain within α-helix 8 that is regulated by palmitoylation” has been cited 27 times since it was published in 2012, according to Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science. [See discussion on PubPeer.]

The other affected articles are:

Regarding the JBC retraction, Miggin told us:

Issues were identified in the following paper J Biol Chem, 2002, 277:27053-64 wherein some features were duplicated in Figures 7C and D, and 8G. As the original autoradiograms and scanned images are no longer available to investigate the matter, it was decided that the article be withdrawn. Regarding the figures in question, replica data sets which fully support the findings and conclusions of the paper can be obtained by contacting Professor Kinsella. Following on from this, I will fully cooperate with any follow-up investigation that may be conducted by UCD into the circumstances surrounding the withdrawal of the aforementioned publication.