RESEARCHERS AT Korea Advanced Institute of Science & Technology (KAIST) have admitted to fabricating data in two high-profile papers, according to an interim report issued on March 13 by a KAIST investigation committee. The papers, published by Tae Kook Kim and colleagues, focused on identifying drug targets using a screening technology their team developed (Science 2005, 309, 121 and Nat. Chem. Biol. 2006, 2, 369). The committee's investigation found that the screening technology, which Kim's team calls magnetism-based interaction capture (MAGIC), had not been reproduced reliably and that the two papers contained misrepresented and fabricated data.
In their Nature Chemical Biology paper, Kim and colleagues reported that they had discovered CGK733, an antiaging small molecule, by screening a library of 20,000 synthetic molecules for their effects on cellular aging, and that they had pinpointed CGK733's protein targets using MAGIC. C&EN covered this work when it was published (C&EN, June 19, 2006, page 15). According to professor Yeon-Soo Seo, a member of the investigation committee, the researchers did not, in fact, identify CGK733 by chemical screening and instead used a structurally similar compound in their cellular-aging experiments.
Terry L. Sheppard, chief editor of Nature Chemical Biology, says he is "interested in correcting the scientific literature as soon as possible." Although the authors have contacted the two journals, both Science and Nature Chemical Biology are waiting for an official retraction statement.
"Trust and reproducibility are the absolute foundations of modern science," says Judith Campisi, who researches the aging of mammalian cells at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. But the discovery of this fraud "will not change the hope and the plan to develop small molecules to substitute for genetic interventions" aimed at slowing or reversing the cellular-aging process or changing other cellular behaviors, she adds.
The KAIST committee is further investigating the validity of the MAGIC technology and the roles Kim and two of his coauthors, Jaejoon Won and Yong-Weon Yi, played in the misconduct. The authors did not respond to C&EN's requests for comment.
This is the first formal investigation of a serious case of scientific misconduct carried out using new protocols established in South Korea after the Woo Suk Hwang stem cell scandal in 2005, Seo says. "Our investigation acts as a strong warning to the scientific community in Korea that scientific misconduct will not be tolerated anymore," he adds.