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Top Harvard Medical School Neuroscientist Accused of Research Misconduct

Khalid Shah, a prominent neuroscientist at Brigham and Women's Hospital, is accused of falsifying data and plagiarizing images across 21 papers.
Khalid Shah, a prominent neuroscientist at Brigham and Women's Hospital, is accused of falsifying data and plagiarizing images across 21 papers. By Naomi S. Castellon-Perez
By Veronica H. Paulus and Akshaya Ravi, Crimson Staff Writers

Top Harvard Medical School neuroscientist Khalid Shah allegedly falsified data and plagiarized images across 21 papers, data manipulation expert Elisabeth M. Bik said.

In an analysis shared with The Crimson, Bik alleged that Shah, the vice chair of research in the department of neurosurgery at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, presented images from other scientists’ research as his own original experimental data.

Though Bik alleged 44 instances of data falsification in papers spanning 2001 to 2023, she said the “most damning” concerns appeared in a 2022 paper by Shah and 32 other authors in Nature Communications, for which Shah was the corresponding author.

Shah is the latest prominent scientist to have his research face scrutiny by Bik, who has emerged as a leading figure among scientists concerned with research integrity.

She contributed to data falsification allegations against four top scientists at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute — leading to the retraction of six and correction of 31 papers — and independently reviewed research misconduct allegations reported by the Stanford Daily against former Stanford president Marc T. Tessier-Lavigne, which played a part in his resignation last summer.

Bik said that after being notified of the allegations by one of Shah’s former colleagues, she used the AI software ImageTwin and reverse image searches to identify duplicates across papers. Bik said she plans on detailing the specifc allegations in a forthcoming blog post.

In interviews, Matthew S. Schrag, an assistant professor of neurology at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, and Mike Rossner, the president of Image Data Integrity — who reviewed the allegations at The Crimson’s request — said they had merit and raised serious concerns about the integrity of the papers in question.

Shah did not respond to a request for comment for this article.

In an emailed statement Wednesday, Paul J. Anderson, the chief academic officer of Mass General Brigham, which oversees Brigham and Women’s Hospital, did not comment on the specific allegations against Shah but said the hospital “is committed to preserving the highest standards of biomedical research and fostering scientific innovation.”

“We take very seriously any questions, concerns, or allegations regarding research conducted at our hospitals and undertake a robust and confidential process to assess and respond to any claims that are brought to our attention in accordance with hospital policy and federal regulations,” Anderson wrote.

Bik said the 2022 paper contained lifted images from seven papers authored by other scientists and the websites of two scientific vendors.

The 2022 paper contains an image which Bik said was taken from imaging by R&D Systems, a company which manufactures antibodies for scientific research. An apparently identical image to the one contained in the 2022 paper appears in a 2018 R&D Systems catalog entry obtained by The Crimson.

R&D Systems is not credited for the image in the 2022 article.

Schrag said that not only were the images repeated, but that “the vendor is saying this is a different antibody than the one that the authors are saying it is.”

“This is a really unusual sort of thing that I cannot imagine how this happens by accident,” Schrag added.

Rossner added he had never seen an allegation of duplication of this sort in 22 years.

“If I were either a research integrity officer or a journal editor, I would want to see the source data,” Rossner said.

Nature Communications, which published the 2022 article, did not respond to a request for comment.

The allegation against the earliest paper — published in 2001, on which Shah is listed as first author — claims that two blots have been copied, magnified, and pasted into two other blots within the same figure.

According to Schrag, this manipulation would change the findings of the study, as it suggests production of a larger abundance of proteins.

The remaining 19 papers contain blot and image duplications within figures in the same paper or repeated from earlier papers authored by Shah, Bik alleged.

In an emailed statement Wednesday, HMS spokesperson Ekaterina D. Pesheva declined to comment on the allegations against Shah, citing a policy against commenting on individual research integrity concerns due to federal and institutional regulations.

She wrote that a research integrity officer will typically respond to concerns of research misconduct to determine whether it “warrants a formal inquiry” led by HMS and the “respective affiliated institution” under federal research misconduct regulations.

“Please note that until proven otherwise, any and all concerns remain simply concerns, and it is critical for the review process to unfold as intended,” Pesheva wrote.

Of the 18 scientific journals which published the articles questioned by Bik, spokespeople for seven — Oncogene, Biophysical Journal, PLOS One, Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, Cancer Biology and Therapy, Nature Scientific Reports, and Clinical Cancer Research — said they were aware of and investigating the allegations.

The other eleven journals, including Nature Communications, did not respond to requests for comment.

Correction: February 2, 2024

A previous version of this article misspelled the name of Harvard Medical School spokesperson Ekaterina D. Pesheva.

—Staff writer Veronica H. Paulus can be reached at veronica.paulus@thecrimson.com. Follow her on X @VeronicaHPaulus.

—Staff writer Akshaya Ravi can be reached at akshaya.ravi@thecrimson.com. Follow her on X @akshayaravi22.

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HealthResearchHarvard Medical SchoolAcademic IntegrityResearch Misconduct