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Researcher left Moffitt under a cloud from journal articles

Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa. [Times files]

Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa. [Times files]

TAMPA — A longtime researcher who retracted 19 articles from the Journal of Biological Chemistry last month has parted ways with Moffitt Cancer Center, the center confirmed Tuesday.

Dr. Jin Cheng asked to have his work withdrawn after an investigation found he used the same images to represent different experimental conditions, the journal's deputy editor Fred Guengerich said.

Guengerich called the number of retractions "very unusual."

Cheng could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Moffitt officials declined to give details about his split with the cancer research and treatment facility. But they said his work had not compromised patient care, safety or protocols.

"Moffitt Cancer Center adheres to the highest ethical standards in both research and clinical care," the center said in a statement. "Moffitt has collaborated with the Journal of Biological Chemistry to resolve this issue, and review of this matter is ongoing."

Moffitt has long been known as a research hub. It recently received the highest designation for cancer research and scientific leadership from the National Cancer Institute, and is poised to play a key role in Vice President Joe Biden's "moon shot" to cure cancer.

Cheng's work sought to better understand the molecular and chemical properties of tumors. He studied the development of different types of cancer, including ovarian, breast and skin.

The articles in question were published between 2002 and 2012. They were co-written by more than a dozen other researchers, including several from Moffitt and the University of South Florida.

It was unclear Tuesday if any of the co-authors would face disciplinary action. USF was also conducting an internal investigation, a spokeswoman said.

The retractions were made largely on account of reused images of cell samples. In each case, the authors said they stood by the overall conclusions of the study.

Daniele Fanelli, a senior research scientist at Stanford University's Meta-Research Innovation Center who studies scientific misconduct, said the researchers might not have realized they were producing misleading information.

"Maybe this was seen as some form of cosmetic improvement of the presentation to back up results that were valid nonetheless," he said.

But Ivan Oransky, whose blog Retraction Watch monitors academic journals and was the first to report on Cheng's retractions, noted the "errors" made Cheng's findings look better.

"This, to any researcher, is going to look like misconduct," he said.

That will likely be the case for the other journals that published Cheng's work, he added. "It would be safe to say that there will be retractions from other journals," he said.

Cheng started working at Moffitt in 1997, after completing postdoctoral work at the Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia, according to his LinkedIn page. He earned his medical degree at the Beijing Capital Medical University and his Ph.D. at Paris University 13.

Times senior news researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Contact Kathleen McGrory at kmcgrory@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8330. Follow @kmcgrory.

Researcher left Moffitt under a cloud from journal articles 11/02/16 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 2, 2016 3:53pm]
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