Who is Dr Sylvain Lesné? How a 'manipulated' 2006 Alzheimer's study may have undone decades of hope and research
Science leaders alleged that part of a renowned 2006 study of Alzheimer's disease might have been forged and posed a threat to public health. Pointing fingers at the validation of the study's results, the leaders are demanding prison sentences to the worst offenders.
Science magazine on Thursday revealed that it came across some strong evidence that suggests the image that came out as the result of a reputed Alzheimer's study published 16 years ago in the journal Nature may have been fabricated. The claims of the magazine have brought Sylvain Lesné and his research back to public attention.
Who is Dr Sylvain Lesné?
Sylvain Lesné, a neuroscientist and associate professor at the University of Minnesota, published a report in 2006 that first identified a special kind of protein called amyloid beta star 56, which he claimed was the key cause behind memory loss in lab mice. The report - authored by Lesné and co-authored by his boss Professor Karen Ashe and colleagues - claimed that the name of the protein was cited in more than 2,000 studies by a number of researchers.
However, Science claimed that they have found more than 70 instances of possible image tampering and approximately 20 suspicious studies authored by Lesné.
Lesné’s study was first questioned when some experts tried to replicate it but failed miserably. They then warned that the image shown in the result of the studies appeared to be doctored. Last year, reputed researcher Dr Matthew Schrag, a neuroscientist at Vanderbilt University, informed journals about the fabricated images via multiple papers.
Dr Schrag's claims gained weight when other Alzheimer’s researchers and forensic image analysis backed his reports. Karl Herrup, a professor of neurobiology at the University of Pittsburgh Brain Institute, said Lesné's findings have rocked the research community and are "really bad for science."
"It's never shameful to be wrong in science," said Herrup, who works at the school's Alzheimer's Disease Research Center. "A lot of the best science was done by people being wrong and proving first if they were wrong and then why they were wrong. What is completely toxic to science is to be fraudulent."
The amyloid beta protein, which formed sticky plaques in the brain, was blamed as the real cause of Alzheimer's until the 2006 study in Nature identified a subtype of the protein — Aβ*56, or "amyloid beta star 56" as the cause of memory loss.
Dr Karen Ashe, a neuroscientist and professor at the University of Minnesota who co-authored the 2006 paper, said her wish is to retract the study in its entirety. "Having worked for decades to understand the cause of Alzheimer's disease, so that better treatments can be found for patients, it is devastating to discover that a co-worker may have misled me and the scientific community through the doctoring of images," she said in an emailed statement.
Meanwhile, Kat Dodge, a spokesperson for the University of Minnesota Medical School, said that the institution is well aware of the questions around the studies authored by Lesné and Ashe. "The University will follow its processes to review the questions any claims have raised," she said Monday in a statement provided to NBC News.