Two Cardiac MR Articles Pulled for Research Misconduct

Patrice Wendling

September 18, 2020

Two studies touting the use of cardiac magnetic resonance (CMR) for noninvasive detection of coronary microvascular dysfunction have been retracted on the basis of findings of research misconduct.

The articles, by a team of University of Oxford researchers, were published in 2018 in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology and were reported by | Medscape Cardiology at that time.

The journal voted to retract the articles after an investigation by a University of Oxford panel "concluded that the first author, Alexander Liu was responsible for misconduct in research." Notably, "no other co-author was found to be involved in the misconduct."

With regard to the first article, the university's findings were that

  • "certain data had been fabricated by the first author amending the actual study data so that the paper and the central illustration would show a compelling case that T1 mapping could distinguish between epicardial obstructive coronary artery disease and coronary microvascular dysfunction;

  • the number of control subjects, their age, and the statistical test to calculate the significance of a difference between the patients in this paper were incorrect; and

  • Figure 2 had been fabricated."

The university panel favored retraction, noting that the article had "major irregularities and its conclusions were unsafe."

The panel reached the same conclusion regarding the second article, which championed CMR for diagnosing microvascular angina.

That decision was based on these findings:

  • "rather than 50 individual patients in the study (28 CAD providing 35 vessels and 22 NOCAD providing 66), there were actually 26 CAD patients, providing 31 vessels and 25 NOCAD patients providing 60 vessels, but three patients each providing two vessels were double counted, providing 66 vessels in all. Only six patients met the stated definition of NOCAD;

  • 5 controls with discrepant ages were included in the study;

  • controls had been iteratively excluded from the analysis as the paper was revised, without explanation;

  • that subjects used as controls in the study were patient volunteers and not healthy controls; and

  • Figure 5 had been fabricated."

The journal noted that in both cases, the coauthors of the studies agreed that a retraction is appropriate. The articles were retracted on September 1.

Liu, however, has filed a complaint with the Office of the Independent Adjudicator, which reviews student complaints about higher education providers in England and Wales.

The university had previously heralded Liu and his colleagues at the Oxford Center for Clinical Magnetic Resonance Research for their work on T1 mapping. In 2017, Liu won the Society for Cardiovascular Magnetic Resonance Clinical Early Career award.

Liu did not respond to a request for comment.

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