University of Liverpool reverses course, names researcher guilty of misconduct

A few weeks ago, we received a press release that gave us pause: The University of Liverpool said it had found one of its researchers guilty of research misconduct — but did not say who, nor which papers might be involved.

Now, less than one month later, the university is naming the researcher, and identifying a paper that it has asked the journal to retract.

After we covered the opaque release, we received some tips that the scientist might be Daniel Antoine, who studies liver damage. Last week, Liverpool confirmed that Antoine is the researcher in question.

After he left Liverpool, Antoine took a position at the University of Edinburgh. However, the faculty page is now blank, and a spokesperson told Retraction Watch he is “no longer employed by the University”:

We cannot comment on the circumstances surrounding an individual member of staff leaving our employment.

The new release from Liverpool recommends retracting a 2012 paper in the Journal of Hepatology, “Molecular forms of HMGB1 and keratin-18 as mechanistic biomarkers for mode of cell death and prognosis during clinical acetaminophen hepatotoxicity.” The paper has been cited 170 times, according to Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science.

We’ve reached out to Antoine at his Liverpool and Edinburgh email addresses, but haven’t heard back.

Why the sudden burst of transparency?

Just weeks ago, the University of Liverpool was declining to provide details about the case. According to a spokesperson:

We are now recommending the retraction of a specific paper and, as such, we issued an updated release with the name of that paper and the researcher involved.

However, the new release states that the investigation wrapped up months ago:

Following a detailed investigation, the panel produced its final report in March 2018, which concluded that Dr Dan Antoine, who left the University of his own volition last year, was involved in research misconduct. It found that malpractice had directly influenced and undermined the findings of the research.

Another paper in the journal co-authored by Antoine has been temporarily removed; according to the statement from Liverpool,

…a paper which is available in pre-print has been temporarily removed as a precautionary measure while its source data is verified.

The Liverpool statement says the university has launched a comprehensive review of his work. A statement from Louise Kenny, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Health and Life Sciences, notes:

Any potential impact on patient safety is our primary concern. However we are confident, in relation to the research activity investigated thus far, that patient safety has not been compromised…I would also like to emphasise that no current and no other former employees or collaborators have been implicated as a result of the investigation.

According to a biographical statement for Antoine, he has received several young investigator awards, and his research has been funded by the European Commission, Medical Research Council, Wellcome Trust, The Royal Society and the pharmaceutical industry.