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Alzheimer’s research scandal: sleuths raise alarm on potentially “doctored” images

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A trusted theory about what causes Alzheimer’s disease could have come from “falsified” and “shockingly blatant” image tampering – casting major doubts on a defining paper, it has emerged. 

An investigation by Science reveals how a 2006 study, published in Nature, has influenced 16 years of clinical trials into Alzheimer’s Disease.  It had been connected to “millions of dollars” of related research, before recently being flagged up as potentially untrue. 

Despite its long-standing presence, doubts have been cast over its credibility. Science magazine even considers in its report whether or not a compound implicated in the paper actually exists. 

“Blatant” findings 

The report states that deposits of a protein, amyloid beta (Aβ), found in brain tissues were the “primary cause” of cognitive decline. Such decline is known as the hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease.

Back in 1906, Alois Alzheimer found plaques and other protein deposits in the brain of a deceased dementia patient. Decades later in 1984, researchers identified Aβ to be the main component of the plaques.

The recent study is significant because a researcher who conducted it claimed that  Aβ*56 – a previously unknown type of compound called oligomers – was “the first substance” to be identified that caused memory impairment. Allegedly, the “manipulations” were constructed to show Aβ*56 as playing a role in causing Alzheimer’s, and ultimately it may not have. 

Were the images tampered with?

Science‘s investigation has found evidence suggesting that at least 70 images published by the first author of that influential 2006 paper, Sylvain Lesné, a neuroscientist at the University of Minnesota, may have been manipulated. 

Donna Wilcock, an Alzheimer’s expert at the University of Kentucky, told Science: “Some look like shockingly blatant examples of image tampering.”

The report read: “A 6-month investigation by Science provided strong support for Schrag’s suspicions and raised questions about Lesné’s research. 

“A leading independent image analyst and several top Alzheimer’s researchers—including George Perry of the University of Texas, San Antonio, and John Forsayeth of the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF)—reviewed most of Schrag’s findings at Science’s request. 

“They concurred with his overall conclusions, which cast doubt on hundreds of images, including more than 70 in Lesné’s papers.”

Read the full report


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