Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Too little too late: Irresponsible medical journal retracts MMR scare paper

Peer review? What peer review? The tiny sample size -- if you can call it a sample -- made the purported observations no more than anecdotal

A leading medical journal has officially retracted the discredited study which sparked a health scare over the MMR vaccine. The Lancet said it now accepted claims made by the researchers which linked MMR to bowel disorders and autism, were "false". It comes after Andrew Wakefield, the lead researcher in the 1998 paper, was ruled last week to have been irresponsible and dishonest in carrying out the original study on 12 children.

MMR is the combined measles, mumps and rubella vaccine which was introduced in 1988. The fall-out from the research, first published in February 1998, caused vaccination rates to plummet and has been blamed for a resurgence of measles in Britain.

The General Medical Council (GMC) ruled last week that Wakefield showed a "callous disregard" for the suffering of children and that two fellow authors of the paper also "failed in their duties" as responsible doctors in carrying out the study. Invasive procedures were carried out on the 12 children without proper ethics committee approval and without due regard to their clinical needs, the GMC found.

Wakefield was also found to have received 50,000 pounds from the Legal Aid Board to carry out the research on behalf of parents who believed their children had already been harmed by MMR. Wakefield and two former colleagues, John Walker-Smith and Simon Murch, now face being struck off the medical register if they are found guilty of a further charge of serious professional misconduct later this year.

The three doctors deny any wrongdoing. The Lancet had already issued a partial retraction of the paper in 2004, rejecting the interpretation that the vaccine could be linked to health problems. This was signed by ten of the 13 original authors of the study, including Professors Walker-Smith and Murch. At the time, The Lancet argued it had been right to publlish the study as the journal was there to "raise new ideas".

But it said yesterday that in light of the conflict of interest and other charges found proved by the GMC: "We fully retract this paper from the published record." Leading doctors welcomed the decision, although some complained it was ten years too late. Professor Adam Finn, Professor Of Paediatrics at University of Bristol Medical School, added: "This is not before time. Let's hope this will do something to re-establish the good reputation of this excellent vaccine. And I hope the country can now draw a line under this particular health scare and move onto new opportunities for vaccination."


Report: cancer studies used wrong cells

Another reason to be skeptical about in vitro findings

More than 100 published studies and two clinical trials involving esophageal cancer are based partly or wholly on research that mistakenly used cells from other types of cancer, a report claims. Its authors suggest the findings may reflect a wider problem in cancer research -- that cells thought to be from one type of cancer actually come from a totally different type.

The report, by Winand N.M. Dinjens of Erasmus University Medical Center in the Netherlands and colleagues, appears Jan. 14 online in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. In the case of esophageal cancer, the authors said, their investigation revealed that three often-used cell lineages were actually from colon, lung or gastric cancer. The lineages were thought to be tumor cells from esophageal adenocarcinoma, one of two main types of esophageal cancer. More generally, among lineages of tumor cells used in basic cancer research, "it has been estimated that up to one-third. have an origin other than that supposed," they wrote.

The report appears Jan. 14 in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. "In the past, the scientific community has recognized this problem, but decisive action has not been taken," they continued. The report attributed the mistakes to "cross-contamination between cell lines and mislabeling of cultures." "Widespread use of contaminated cell lines threatens the development of treatment strategies for [esophageal adenocarcinoma]," the authors wrote.

They also noted that 11 patents to date are based on the erroneous studies. Two clinical trials in the United States are partly or wholly thrown into question by the findings, they added. The first, a University of Chicago trial entitled The Effects of Sorafenib on Molecular Barrett's Esophagus Cancer, is currently recruiting patients, with a goal of obtaining 15 volunteers. The second seeks to enroll 85 patients, but other types of cancer are also included. The study, sponsored by Geron Corp., is entitled Safety and Dose Study of GRN163L Administered to Patients With Refractory or Relapsed Solid Tumor Malignancies.

The first of these trials should be "reconsidered," Dinjens and colleagues wrote. But Robert Shoemaker, a scientist at the National Cancer Institute at Frederick, Md., disagreed. He said that the rationale behind the University of Chicago study is based on a chemical pathway common to many tumor types. Thus it doesn't necessarily depend on a specific type of cancer cell having been used in the original studies. Moreover, because even a single tumor contains different cell types, "one might question the rationale for any therapeutic maneuver that is based on studies conducted on a single cell line," he wrote, in an editorial accompanying Dinjens' report in the journal.


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