Marc Tessier-Lavigne, a renowned neuroscientist, announced Wednesday that he will step down from his position as president of Stanford University, after the publication of an external review of his scientific work found fault with several high-profile journal articles published in his field. .

A committee drafted the review in response to allegations that Dr. Tessier-Lavigne was involved in scientific misconduct. Five well-known biologists and neuroscientists were on the committee, including Randy Schekman, who won the 2013 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, and Shirley Tilghman, who served as president of Princeton University from 2001 to 2013. In its report, which focused on 12 academic papers, the committee said there was no evidence that Dr. Tessier-Lavigne knowingly falsified data or withheld such information from the public.

But the committee noted that “many members of Dr. Tessier-Lavigne’s laboratories over the years appear to have manipulated research data and/or missed accepted scientific practices,” pointing to multiple errors in the five papers for which Dr. Tessier- Lavigne led or supervised the research. In response, Dr. Tessier-Lavigne promised to withdraw three of the five articles, request major corrections for two and step down from his position as president.

“I am pleased that the panel concluded that I did not engage in any fraud or falsification of scientific data,” Dr Tessier-Lavigne said in a statement, adding: “While I was not aware of these matters, I want to be clear , that I take responsibility for the work of my laboratory staff.”

In 2015, many concerns were raised on the website PubPeer regarding the imaging data published in three papers – one in the journal Cell in 1999 and two in the journal Science in 2001 – on which Dr. Tessier-Lavigne served as lead author. The concerns varied, highlighting what appeared to be the digital editing and manipulation of image backgrounds, the duplication of special images and the creation of composite images that obscured the purity of the scientific data.

These concerns were reviewed in 2022 by several media outlets, including Stanford’s student newspaper, The Stanford Daily, which cast further scrutiny on Dr. Tessier-Lavigne’s research. The outlets have highlighted images in more than a dozen different articles that Dr. Tessier-Lavigne has worked on. Although some images appeared to have little effect on the results of the studies, others appeared to have substantively affected the findings.

As a result, Stanford’s board of trustees opened an investigation into Dr. Tessier-Lavigne’s scientific work and organized a five-member expert panel to review the allegations.

In early 2023, The Stanford Daily published additional charges that, in 2009, when Dr. Tessier-Lavigne was working as an executive at the biotechnology company Genentech, he published an article in the journal Nature that contained falsified data. Citing unnamed sources, the student newspaper suggested that an investigative review board conducted an internal investigation at Genentech into the 2009 article and found evidence of data falsification. The Stanford Daily also suggested that Dr. Tessier-Lavigne was made aware of these matters but prevented them from being released to the public.

Dr. Tessier-Lavigne strongly denied the allegations.

After meeting 50 times and collecting 50,000 documents, the five-member expert panel released its findings on Wednesday. It concluded that, although there was image manipulation and evidence of methodological carelessness in each of the articles it examined, Dr. Tessier-Lavigne did not engage in any of this himself and did not “knowingly accept others to do so.”

He was also acquitted of the most serious charge: data falsification in his 2009 Nature paper. The committee noted that the research “lacked the rigor expected for a paper of such potential consequence” and determined that Dr. Tessier-Lavigne could have been more honest about the paper’s shortcomings, but it concluded that the allegations of fraud were false.

In the article, the researchers claimed that they found a chain reaction of brain proteins, including one called Death Receptor 6, that contributed to the development of Alzheimer’s disease. If the research continued, it promised to present a new path for a better understanding and treatment of the disease.

“There was some excitement that this could be an alternative way of thinking about the disease,” said Dr. Matthew Schrag, a neurologist at Vanderbilt University.

However, further research — some published by Dr. Tessier-Lavigne’s laboratory — found that the experiments highlighting the role of the DR6 chain reaction in Alzheimer’s did not prove what was claimed. This was true, in part, due to unforeseen side effects of the inhibitors that were used in the experiments, as well as impurities in the proteins that were used.

The panel suggested that, instead of publishing more papers that contradicted the findings of the 2009 paper, Dr. Tessier-Lavigne could have issued a direct correction or retraction. But the report determined that the allegations of fraud, first published in The Stanford Daily based on the testimony of largely unnamed sources (some of whom the committee was unable to identify), conflated an unrelated case of scientific misconduct in Dr. Tessier-Lavigne. with the 2009 paper.

Dr. Schrag, who found images that appeared to be duplicates of the 2009 study and flagged them publicly in February, said the study simply wasn’t rigorous enough. “The quality of the work was not high,” said Dr. Schrag, emphasizing that he was speaking for himself and not for his university.

Of the 12 articles the expert committee reviewed, it found “manipulation of research data” in almost all of them. According to the report, such manipulation constitutes a range of practices, including digitally altering images, splicing panels, using data from unrelated experiments, duplicating data and digitally altering the appearance of proteins. But the committee admitted that some of the examples of manipulation could have been inadvertent, or may have been an attempt to “beautify” the results.

Mike Rossner, president of the biomedical image manipulation consulting firm Image Data Integrity, said he spent 12 years examining manuscripts accepted for publication in The Journal of Cell Biology between 2002 and 2013. He found that about 25 percent of articles “had some kind of a type of manipulation that violated our guidelines and needed to be corrected before publication.” In most cases, he said, the problems were inadvertent and did not affect the interpretation of the data. But in about 1 percent of cases the paper had to be pulled.

“There is this pattern emerging that this is not as rare as we want to believe it is,” Dr. Schrag said.

The many cases of image manipulation prompted the expert panel to speak with postdoctoral researchers who worked under Dr. Tessier-Lavigne at different times and at different institutions, including Stanford and Genentech.

Many praised Dr. Tessier-Lavigne’s intellectual acuity and commitment to scientific rigor, but many also described a laboratory culture that encouraged good results and successful experiments. They felt that the lab, and Dr. Tessier-Lavigne, “tended to reward the ‘winners’ (that is, postdocs who were able to generate favorable results) and marginalize or diminish the ‘losers’ (that is, postdocs who were unable or struggled). to generate such data),” the report noted.

The committee determined that Dr. Tessier-Lavigne did not want this dynamic, but that it may have contributed to the high rate of data manipulation that came out of his laboratories.

Dr. Tessier-Lavigne, who will step down as president on Aug. 31 but will remain a biology professor at Stanford, said in an email to students: “While I continue to keep a critical eye on all the science in my lab, I have also always operated my lab on trust — trust my students and postdocs, and trust that the data they presented to me was real and accurate. Going forward, I will tighten controls.”

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