National University of Singapore Clears Ito of Misconduct Charge

The National University of Singapore (NUS) announced today that it has found no evidence of research misconduct by Yoshiaki Ito, a high-profile cancer researcher accused of data fabrication. However, the finding does not resolve the underlying—and long-running—scientific dispute over whether a gene known as Runx3 is a tumor suppressor.

A group led by Yoram Groner of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, published a paper in Mechanisms of Development in 2001 that in part concluded that Runx3 could not be found in the gastrointestinal tract. A year later a team led by Ito and colleagues claimed in a Cell paper that Runx3 suppressed gastric cancer. The two have since debated their respective positions at conferences and in publications. Groner's latest paper claiming to refute Ito's claims appeared online 8 August at EMBO Molecular Medicine. But he went a step further, filing a formal complaint with the university that Ito's experimental results "could not possibly be reached in the first place," he told Science. Following standard procedures, NUS launched an investigation that resulted in today's statement:

On 20 September 2011, NUS began looking into a complaint that had received wide publicity in the lay and scientific media suggesting possible research misconduct by Professor Yoshiaki Ito. The formal complaint received by NUS related to the claim that certain data that Prof Ito published in 2002 cannot be replicated. We have now completed our review in line with our research integrity procedures, and find no evidence for research misconduct on the part of Prof Ito. NUS notes that this issue has been the subject of a long-standing and open scientific disagreement. Honest differences in interpretations or judgments of data are best addressed through further research and scholarship.

"I am most heartened that NUS has cleared me of research misconduct," Ito wrote in a statement. The argument over Runx3 is set to continue. Ito added that the expression of Runx3 in the human gastrointestinal tract, as his group reported, has been independently confirmed by others. "Any personal decisions made by NUS regarding Dr. Ito are none of my business," Groner wrote in an e-mail. But he is not backing down on his scientific claims. "My only concern in this matter is removal from the research literature of the erroneous and misleading information published in (the Ito group's) 2002 Cell paper," he wrote.