The U.S. Department of Justice has launched an investigation into Cassava Sciences over an Alzheimer's drug the company developed. The DOJ is investigating as it appears the research behind the drug may have been fabricated, and that same study has informed almost all Alzheimer's research for the past 15 years, which could mean years of research and hundreds of millions of dollars of tax payer funds were squandered on a lie.
So how did we get here?
The reigning theory about why elderly people experience Alzheimer's is that plaques build up in the brains of Alzheimer's patients causing cognitive decline. That research was published 2006 by Sylvain Lesné in association with Cassava Sciences.
However, recently Matthew Schrag, a neuroscientist, physician, and straight-up data thug at Vanderbilt University was asked to dig deeper into the study by an attorney representing clients who were short selling the company and discovered that Lesné's study was an elaborate mirage.
Schrag hesitates to call it "fraud" or say there was misconduct without access to the original data and images from the study, but as far as what was published, he says,
"I focus on what we can see in the published images, and describe them as red flags, not final conclusions. The data should speak for itself."
The eminent scientific research journal Science led a 6-month investigation with leading image analysts and Alzheimer's researchers into Schrag's suspicions, and they all concurred with his conclusions. Images of the plaques included "shockingly blatant" examples of image tampering.
Elisabeth Bik, a molecular biologist and well-known forensic consultant said,
"The authors appeared to have composed figures by piecing together parts of photos from different experiments. The obtained experimental results might not have been the desired results, and that data might have been changed to … better fit a hypothesis."
It really should not be that surprising that this happened. According to a recent meta-analysis of studies on the question of integrity in scientific research, 33% of scientists admit to questionable research practices, and 72% say they have seen colleagues participate in questionable research practices, including falsifying results to fit a hypothesis.
However, even knowing that, no one repeated the Cassava Sciences study to verify it, and thousands of studies from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) were based on the study.
So where do we go from here when it comes to Alzheimer's research? I mean, President Biden said every hospital bed will be filled with Alzheimer's patients in 15 years.
Surely there's some alternate plan for research besides prosecuting a company that allegedly falsified a study.
Oops, I forgot who I was talking about.
Oh well, I guess it doesn't matter in the end. If Biden is right, then in 15 years, we'll have forgotten all about it.
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