A government agency has paused a clinical trial testing an experimental stem cell therapy in heart failure patients, a move made public on Monday and sparked by recommendations to retract 31 journal articles from the lab of a controversial cardiac stem cell researcher.
“Recent calls for the retraction of journal articles in related fields of cell therapy research have raised concerns about the scientific foundations of this trial,” the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute said in a statement posted Monday.
On Oct. 17, the New England Journal of Medicine retracted one paper and published an “expression of concern” about two others from the lab of Dr. Piero Anversa, a controversial stem cell researcher. The journal’s move came three days after Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital told STAT and Retraction Watch they had recommended that 31 papers from Anversa be retracted by medical journals.
Dr. David Goff, director of the Division of Cardiovascular Sciences at NHLBI, confirmed Monday that news about the 31 journal articles from the Anversa lab prompted the pause in the trial known as CONCERT-HF. None of the retracted or disputed papers specifically relate to the trial, he said, but the trial’s Data and Safety Monitoring Board, convened last week at the institute’s request, on Friday recommended a “pause” in the trial so the board could complete its review.
Anversa’s research focused on advancing the idea that the heart contains stem cells, called c-kit cells, that could regenerate cardiac muscle after a heart attack. But when various research teams tried to reproduce results reported in his papers, they failed. Anversa left Harvard and the Brigham in 2015. Lawyers for Anversa and his colleague Dr. Annarosa Leri said earlier this month the doctors “stand by the scientific findings in their papers, including the existence and potential therapeutic benefits of cardiac stem cells.” In an Oct. 3 letter that Anversa provided to The New York Times, Harvard and the Brigham said he had “committed research misconduct” in eight papers and in a grant application.