May 25, 2024

The stem cell curse: more faked papers, unethical research

Austrian researchers under fire for trials with adult stem cells

InnsbruckIs it their novelty? Is it their potential profitability? Or is it a
Wagnerian doom which hangs over stem cell research? Once again a reputable
researcher has allegedly violated ethical standards, run experiments badly and
faked documentation in order to publish in a highly ranked journal.

This time
Götterdämmerung took place in Austria, not Korea, and with adult stem cells, not
embryonic stem cells. The ensuing controversy is in danger of tearing apart the
Medical University of Innsbruck. In 2007, a team led by Hannes Strasser published a paper in The Lancet
which described its success in cultivating stem cells taken from upper arm
muscle and injecting them into women’s urinary sphincter muscles to treat
urinary incontinence. But an investigation by the government’s Agency for Health
and Food Safety has issued a report alleging that the urologists neglected to
secure proper approvals for the trial, designed the trial poorly, and forged
supporting documentation. There is even talk of criminal charges, as several
participants in the trial and other patients claim that they have suffered
serious side effects, such as sealing of the urinary sphincter and rupture of
the bladder.

But it is not only Dr Strasser whose reputation is on the line. The head of
the urology department, Georg Bartsch, was a co-author — only "honorary
authorship", he says – although an internal review exonerated him. The furious
university rector, Clemens Sorg, wants to discipline Strasser and Bartsch.
However, the university council, dismayed over the "the danger of serious
economic damage", wants to dismiss Sorg instead. University academics are
backing Sorg. Austria’s science academy is being sucked into the vortex as well,
although it is waiting to see whether Sorg will be impeached. The kettle drums
are rolling and on August 21, the council will meet to decide whether to dismiss
the rector for enforcing high ethical standards for stem cell research. ~ Nature
News, August 14