Health

Top Toronto doctors alleged to have falsified research data

The retraction of two scientific papers and a concern raised about a third written by a team of Toronto researchers have led to allegations of data falsification.

Dr. Sylvia Asa and Dr. Shereen Ezzat ask court to review claims of internal hospital review, lawyer says

The retraction of two scientific papers and a concern raised about a third written by a team of Toronto researchers have led to allegations of data falsification.

The researchers — Dr. Sylvia Asa, a pathologist, and her husband, Dr. Shereen Ezzat, an endocrinologist — have denied the finding of an internal review at the hospital where they work, University Health Network.

The investigation concluded that some data were falsified in two articles Asa, Ezzat and colleagues published in the American Journal of Pathology in May and December of 2010.

Based on the hospital's review, the journal retracted the articles in their August issue — a move which effectively erases the work from the scientific literature.

Asa and Ezzat, who study the genetics of breast cancer, are refusing to comment about the situation.

But their lawyer, Brian Moher, confirmed he has filed an application for a judicial review of the investigation's findings with Ontario's divisional court.

Moher said a preliminary court date has been set for Aug. 27.

"The doctors disagree with the allegation that they engaged in the falsification of data," Moher said in an interview, adding the application is for "an impartial review."

University Health Network appointed a panel to investigate the two papers at the request of the journal, which began to look into the articles after a reader wrote to express concerns about them.

The hospital's vice-president of research and its vice-president of medical affairs and quality concluded that the papers contained "manipulated and-or fabricated data."

The researchers agreed that the papers should be retracted, though they insisted the findings were valid and could be reproduced, which is of key importance in science.

The August issue of the journal also contains a "Note of Concern" from the editors about another article written by Asa and Ezzat.

That article, published in the journal in September 2003, contained an image that was identical to one used in an article the pair published the previous year in a different journal. That is a scientific no-no.

The editors said Asa later supplied the journal with a replacement image and the article has been corrected.

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