Stem cell researchers claim Harvard, Brigham mishandled probe

Two prominent researchers whose work on stem cells has come under review have fired back at Harvard Medical School and Brigham & Women's Hospital in a lawsuit, blaming a coauthor for the problems that triggered one paper to be retracted and another questioned while claiming that the university mishandled its investigation into their efforts. Because of that flawed inquiry, they add, their reputations have been "shattered," the sale of a company derailed and lucrative job offers have been sidelined.

Dr. Piero Anversa and Dr. Annarosa Leri brought the suit, which came months after a study they did on regenerating heart muscle was retracted. Another study linked to Anversa was publicly questioned.

But Anversa and Leri say that the problems in the work were due to one person: Jan Kajstura. They go on to spell out how the inquiry at Harvard and Brigham played out, claiming that the probe ignored federal regulations putting a time limit on such inquiries, was riddled with "careless errors" and proceeded on the flawed assumption that Anversa was negligent in not investigating Kajstura's work. Anversa says he was also faulted for not independently replicating the stem cell research.

"In fact," says the suit, "Dr. Kajstura's results could not be replicated because LLNL graphitized the samples provided to them, and therefore destroyed them, during the carbon dating process."

Anversa and Leri also faulted Harvard for putting prominent investigator Dr. Ulrich von Andrian on the investigation panel, saying his work with Moderna--a biotech company which is also working on cardiac regeneration--created a financial conflict of interest.

In the Boston Globe's report on the lawsuit, a reporter was not able to contact Kajstura, who had already left Brigham.

In addition to having their professional reputations destroyed, the suit alleges, the two lost a "multimillion" dollar offer to buy their company, Autologous/Progenital, Mount Sinai has put a hold on their pursuit of the two researchers and Leri's promotion at Harvard has been delayed.

"Most distressingly, Defendants have interfered with Plaintiffs' ability to focus on their potentially life-saving work."

- here's the report from the Boston Globe
- here's a copy of the lawsuit from Science