August 12, 2022

Germany: another stem cell controversy tarnishes the field

Doubt cast on daring claims by cardiologist

What is it about stem cells that attracts scientific misconduct? Even a decade after the exposure of one of the most egregious charlatans of the 20th century, Korean scientist Hwang Woo-suk, there is a long train of discoveries which turn out to be based on shoddy or even fraudulent work.

The latest scandal has come to light in Germany. Cardiologist Bodo-Eckehard Strauer, who retired in 2009, has claimed that stem cells derived from bone-marrow cells will repair damage in diseased hearts. Now a investigators at the University of Düsseldorf says that there is evidence of misconduct in his clinical trials. It has handed a report to police prosecutors.

Strauer’s work has been under attack in Germany for years, with his critics complaining that he had transformed the results of a single case into an amazing “global innovation”.

Last year, a commentary on an analysis of Strauer’s work in the International Journal of Cardiology was scathing in its assessment of his work:

“The analysis by Francis et al. suggests that there have been numerous publications of the same sets of data from Strauer’s group. Moreover what initially appear to be duplicate publications provide contradictory descriptions of experimental designs and of results. At the same time there are implausible agreements between data in populations of different sizes as well as statistical and arithmetic impossibilities in other datasets. I can see no logical option but to suspend belief in any of the data reported in these publications until an appropriate investigation has been performed.”

Michael Cook
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