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Cardiac stem cell study retracted over lack of reliability

18 March 2019
Appeared in BioNews 991

The Lancet has retracted a 2011 paper reporting clinical trial data using cardiac stem cells isolated by Dr Piero Anversa's former laboratory.

This is the latest update in a long-standing controversy regarding the reliability of the work produced under Dr Anversa's leadership while he was at Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts; 16 retractions have been issued thus far.

In 2014, the Lancet editors published an 'Expression of Concern' regarding the study on the Stem Cell Infusion in Patients with Ischemic cardiOmyopathy [SCIPIO] trial. Now, upon further investigation the journal stated that 'the laboratory work undertaken by Piero Anversa and colleagues at Harvard cannot be held to be reliable', specifically referring to 'the data presented in figures 2 and 3 and in supplemental figures 2 and 3'.

These data refer to the validation of c-kit cells – the cardiac stem cell originally identified by the Anversa lab in 2003. Other research groups have historically questioned the validity of these cells and their regenerative potential (see BioNews 251), as several groups have failed to replicate the data generated by Dr Anversa and colleagues.

Last November, the US National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute 'paused' a clinical trial for heart failure which used these c-kit cells (see BioNews 974), although it was assured that patient safety was not compromised as a result of participation.

A total of 31 retractions have currently been recommended by Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women's Hospital, for the work produced by Dr Anversa, who closed his laboratory at the institutions in 2015.

For this latest retraction, the Lancet editors have specified that the clinical data produced by the collaborating author, Professor Roberto Bolli at the University of Louisville in Kentucky, was not in question. In an interview with The Scientist in 2015, Professor Bolli stressed that the data under scrutiny was produced by Dr Anversa's laboratory alone.

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