Alzheimer’s study controversy: What does it mean for future research?

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A now-seminal study published in 2006 provided evidence that the toxic accumulation of a protein called beta-amyloid in the brain was tied to the development of Alzheimer’s disease. Recently, an assistant professor from Vanderbilt University suggested that some of the images in this study were manipulated by the authors. What does all of this mean? In 2006, a group of researchers from the University of Minnesota published a dementia-related study titled in the journal NatureTrusted Source called “A specific amyloid-β [beta-amyloid] protein assembly in the brain impairs memory.” The study provides evidence supporting a specific protein clump in the brain, known as beta-amyloidTrusted Source, as a cause for Alzheimer’s disease.

The study used a mouse model to show how these protein clumps — also known as amyloid plaquesTrusted Source — could cause dementia. Because of its findings, this study became very influential in Alzheimer’s disease research. To date, it has been cited in over 2,200 scientific papersTrusted Source and accessed more than 34,000 times.Now an article recently published in Science reports that an assistant professor of neurology at Vanderbilt University believes some of the images were manipulated in the 2006 Nature study, calling into question the validity of its findings.

“In scientific photography, you are not supposed to alter the image beyond some light general contrast adjustments applied to the whole image,” Dr. Bik explained for Medical News Today. “Most journals nowadays explicitly forbid making any digital alterations. But if a researcher does an experiment, and the results are not as clean or if the results are completely different from what they expected, it is tempting and easy to digitally remove a stain or scratch in the background, or to add or remove some cells or change the thickness of a protein band. It is much faster to do some photoshopping than to redo the experiment.”

This is certainly not the first time the images in a study have come into question. A study from 2016 — on which Dr. Bik was a co-author — found that 3.8% of scientific papers published in 40 journals between 1995 to 2014 had potentially problematic images, with at least half suggestive of deliberate manipulation. To help fight the issue of image manipulation in scientific papers, in 2021, eight journal publishers outlined a three-tier approachTrusted Source to help editors flag potentially problematic imagery.

 

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