We thought we had found the main hypothesis to fight against Alzheimer’s. Now a scandal threatens to overthrow her

And if one of the main contemporary investigations into Alzheimer’s would this be a fraud? What if hundreds of articles published over the past 15 years were to be deleted for having “shocking and glaring” issues? So what Science magazine denounced a few days ago and, as is normal, it was an earthquake in the world of biomedical research.


What happened? In August 2021, a lawyer contacted with Matthew Schrag, a neuroscientist at Vanderbilt University, as he investigated some suspicions about documents that a pharmaceutical company, Cassava Sciences, had used to seek approval for an Alzheimer’s disease drug. Sure enough, Schrag came across a huge catalog of apparently fraudulent images. Thus began a chain reaction that not only set off all the alarms in the research world, but ended up affecting one of the key papers in modern disease studies.

a house of cards. The study, published in 2006 in Nature, was considered “compelling evidence” that Aβ plaques, called plaques, in brain tissue are the main cause of the disease. We’re talking about the current leading working hypothesis of Alzheimer’s disease, and if Schrag were right, it would be an earthquake in research.

The conditional is important because Schrag’s work focuses, fundamentally, on highlighting apparent problems in the images of dozens of studies considered classics in the field. However, is not a “judge”, nor is it immersed in the editorial processes of evaluation: in the scientific article he has come to recognize that there may be explanations for some of these problems and does not attempt to draw “definitive conclusions”, although the truth is that “the data should speak for itself”.

And they did: Scientific Research, relying on independent researchers, seems to confirm that there are hundreds of images in question (some “obviously shocking”). It is still early to draw conclusions (because, at the moment, there are dozens of journals examining the evidence, asking for explanations and deciding whether or not to withdraw articles); however, ‘Nature’ has already begun to review some work and everything indicates that a new one is coming”replication crisis“.

What implications does this have? Beyond economic waste and professional problems, the most obvious would be wasted time. Since 2006, hundreds of people have used these experiences as a starting point for their own experiments, research directions and the development of new drugs. If all this evidence collapses like a house of cards, we will have to start from scratch in many areas.

a new science. The last decade has been almost a century for contemporary science. The replication crisis that affected psychology cancer biology, turned out to be much deeper and more widespread than previously believed, and today there is hardly a field of science that has not been affected in one way or another by these problems. . Which of these weeks is an earthquake in biomedical research, yes; but above all, it is a reminder that we need better ways to organize contemporary science and undo perverse incentives: our lives (and our health) depend on it.

Imagen | National Cancer Institute

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