Former Harvard stem cell researcher falsely represented results, US government finds

Federal authorities concluded that a former Joslin Diabetes Center stem cell scientist and postdoctoral researcher copied images from unrelated experiments and presented identical plots of data as different experimental results in two scientific papers, which were retracted over the last two years.

The scientist, Shane Mayack, agreed to a settlement with the federal government, but neither admits nor denies the finding of research misconduct, according to the finding, published Tuesday in the Federal Register. But she has agreed to a number of restrictions, including supervision of her research, if she receives funding from the U.S. Public Health Service to do research within the next three years.


Any instituition that employs Mayack within three years will be required to submit, along with any grant application or scientific report, “a certification’’ to the Office of Research Integrity that the data “are based on actual experiments or otherwise legitimately derived and that the data, procedures, and methodology are accurately reported,’’ according to the order.

Mayack was a postdoctoral researcher in the laboratory of Amy Wagers, a prominent stem cell researcher. The problems were discovered in two papers that examined the aging of blood stem cells, including one published in a prominent journal, Nature, that found that some effects of aging could be reversed when the circulatory system of an old mouse was joined with that of a young mouse.

The finding from the federal government lays out in detail the problems with the research, naming Mayack as the sole scientist who engaged in misconduct. The finding notes that an investigation by the Harvard-affiliated Joslin found that she falsely represented multiple images, using figures taken from unrelated experiments. It also found that eight graphs of research findings were in fact identical despite being labeled and represented as the results of different experiments.

Wagers discovered the problems in the research two years ago and took prompt action to retract the papers, she and her institutions reported two years ago. Mayack maintained at the time that the results were valid.


When the problems were first discovered, Wagers described her response in an e-mail: “My primary concern has always been to ensure the integrity of the scientific process and my research, and I have taken all appropriate steps to make certain that any errors in the record are fully corrected,’’ wrote Wagers, who is a principal faculty member of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute and a professor at Harvard Medical School. “I regret any confusion that has resulted from the publication of this paper and am deeply grateful to my colleagues who are painstakingly working with me to replicate these experiments and evaluate the data.’’

A Harvard spokesman said that Mayack no longer works at Harvard and the order speaks for itself. Wagers and Mayack did not immediately respond to messages.

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