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Workers’ compensation treatment guidelines, as well as guidelines used in other systems are based on published scientific outcomes research. Most assume that if the study occurred at reputable institutions, and was peer reviewed in reputable journals, it would be rock solid science.  More and more, this assumption is proving to be fallacious.  

Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital have recommended that 31 papers from a former lab director be retracted from medical journals.

The papers from the lab of Dr. Piero Anversa, who studied cardiac stem cells, “included falsified and/or fabricated data,” according to a statement to Retraction Watch and STAT from the two institutions.

Last year, the hospital agreed to a $10 million settlement with the U.S. government over allegations Anversa and two colleagues’ work had been used to fraudulently obtain federal funding.

Anversa and Dr. Annarosa Leri – who have had at least one paper already retracted, and one subject to an expression of concern – had at one point sued Harvard and the Brigham unsuccessfully for alerting journals to problems in their work back in 2014. Anversa’s lab closed in 2015; Anversa, Leri, and their colleague Dr. Jan Kajstura no longer work at the hospital.

While the Brigham settled with the U.S. Department of Justice, the U.S. Office of Research Integrity, which oversees research misconduct investigations involving National Institutes of Health funding, has not made a finding in the case. The university and the hospital have not said which journals the 31 papers appeared in, but the journal Circulation retracted a paper by Anversa and colleagues in 2014, and The Lancet issued an expression of concern about another in the same year.

“Following a review of research conducted in the former lab of Piero Anversa, we determined that 31 publications included falsified and/or fabricated data, and we have notified all relevant journals,” Harvard and the Brigham told STAT and Retraction Watch.

Anversa has previously corrected eight of his papers, many for failures to disclose conflicts of interest. He “practically invented the field of cardiac stem cell therapy when he first reported that cardiac cells were capable of regeneration,” Cardiobrief and MedPage Today wrote about him last year.

Anversa’s work was based on the idea that the heart contains stem cells that could regenerate cardiac muscle. He and his colleagues claimed that they had identified such cells, known as c-kit cells. When various research teams tried to reproduce the results, however, they failed. Still, some scientists have tried to inject c-kit cells into damaged hearts, with mixed results at best.

“We are committed to upholding the highest ethical standards and to rigorously maintaining the integrity of our research,” Harvard and the Brigham said. “Any concerns brought to our attention are reviewed in accordance with institutional policies and applicable regulations.”

Anversa was born in Parma, Italy, in 1940 and received his medical degree from the University of Parma in 1965. He gained prominence as a stem-cell researcher at New York Medical College in Valhalla, N.Y., where he worked before moving to Harvard Medical School and the Brigham in 2007. Anversa became a full professor in 2010.