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Buckyball Longevity: The Lead Author Replies

I’ve received a reply from Dr. Fathi Moussa at Université Paris-Sud, lead author of the C60 longevity paper that I blogged about here, which turned out to have a duplicated figure. With permission, here are the main points of the e-mail:

Of course, you are right: in the published figure 4 the GAog and GAip panels are identical. These two panels were meant to represent the well-known effect of intra-peritoneally (i.p.) administered CCl4 on rat livers. The mistake was obviously due to the fact that the pretreatment of control animals with water either orally (GAog) or i.p. (GAip) cannot influence the effects of CCl4 on livers. Therefore the effects on liver are identical and the corresponding figures are expected to be closely alike. Anyway we sent to the Editor an erratum that will be published soon.
We are very grateful to you for warning us about this figure. We are very furious against ourselves. We still do not understand how such error could have escaped our notice during the revision process. While this mistake has not any influence on the validity of the results described in the text, this could raise a certain amount of doubt over the work. The extension of the lifespan of rats is real and we fear that our error could delay or even prevent control experiments we are expecting to be made by others.
We have published on C60 toxicity since 1995 and all our results have been confirmed by several independent teams. . .

That point in the second paragraph is an important one: if these results are real, they’re quite important and interesting. But, as with any other scientific result, they won’t be accepted as real until they’ve been replicated, and replicating this experiment is already a substantial undertaking. The mistake with the figures doesn’t help to get these started. (I should note that I’ve also called the authors’ attention to the other points raised here in the comments).
My hope is that other groups studying longevity effects in rodents (and having already made the commitment that entails) will be able to add a C60 arm to their experiments as a comparison.

10 comments on “Buckyball Longevity: The Lead Author Replies”

  1. PPedroso says:

    There is still some hope for Buckyballs!
    However, the other questions were quite relevant and I wish they had been answered, more specifically the one about the Estimated Median Lifespans.
    Well, let us wait another 5 years for a replicate of the study.

  2. Rick Wobbe says:

    Judging from the enthusiastic spread of “fountain of youth” proclamations on the Internet, calls for caution until the observations are confirmed are too little too late. The primal urge to live forever and the venal urge to make a lot of money have conspired to make this a potential wildfire that will be difficult to control. The chaotic regulation of “supplements” (see resveratrol) makes it entirely possible that buckyballs will be too entrenched in society for results of experiments five years hence to alter popular perceptions. As with the discussion surrounding the engineering of transmissible bird flu viruses, this raises questions about how well scientists govern the release of hot-topic research info to a public starving for a fantastic story and able to spread it and profit from it with breathtaking speed. It really, really makes me wish the authors had been more diligent and followed Carl Sagan’s advice that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”.

  3. Virgil says:

    He seems confident that this will be dealt with by an erratum, as indicated by the statement “…will be published soon”. Derek, you contacted the journal directly… would you care to contact them again, and ask them to confirm whether Moussa’s statement is correct? Is this a done deal? I would bet good money the journal is still investigating, and has not yet reached a decision, and when they do it will be in favor of retraction, rather than an erratum.

  4. CanadianChemist says:

    I wouldn’t call for a retraction just yet. In my mind, there’s a big difference between inconclusive preliminary results and scientific misconduct, and the latter is far from proven in this case.
    In any case, my thirteen milligram sample of fullerenes remains largely undissolved in 15 ml of extra virgin olive oil (after almost a week on a stir-plate). Boss said it was just as be predicted, but I won’t rule out a kinetic dissolution barrier just yet.
    If it still looks the same in a week, I’ll start trying out more powerful approaches to putting the things in solution. If that doesn’t work, you can include this in your letters to the author/publisher.

  5. Design Monkey says:

    Is there any thing whereof it may be said, See, this is new? it hath been already of old time, which was before us. (Ecc 1:10)
    The whole mess looks very much like the old stuff with radioactivity – right after it was discovered, there were peddled a lot of radioactive patent potions, which promised to cure baldness, impotence and anything, and, of course, to give longevity as well. A little bit later it came clear, that they had somewhat diametrically opposite action though.

  6. Ginsberg says:

    “The mistake was obviously due to…”
    “Therefore the effects on liver are identical and the corresponding figures are expected to be closely alike.”
    Obviously? What was obvious was the re-use of the photo. I think I would have left it as a random error.

  7. biotechchap says:

    you are always bashing pfizer alone, please shower your godly !! comments on abbotts 1.6 billion dollar fine, you were very critical when pfizer got billion dollar fine but please dont ignore BMS, Abbott, Merck, and other CRO’s doing highly honest work, you are very quick to highlight china and india’s shabby manufacturing , please comment on Novartis european plant and J&J OTC plant ethics, try not to be biased….

  8. @#6,
    I agree. This smells a bit funny.
    The comment that the “figures are expected to be alike”, leads me back to my original conclusion: the data is being massaged to fit a predetermined conclusion.
    I’m not saying that there might not be something to the results, but this “mistake” is something you see a lot of in research.
    Scientist: Oh wow! I think I have something here! Experiments A,B and C confirm it, now let’s look at experiment D.
    Scientist: Huh! Why does experiment D look weird? It should look like the results from experiment C. Well, it’s obviously because of a bad reagent, so why don’t I just substitute the results from experiment C for experiment D? No one will notice and if they do, I’ll just run the experiment again and I’m sure it will work the second time.
    The difference between a good and a bad scientist is that the goods ones never assume anything. If you can’t get experiment D to work, then you need to get back to the bench and figure out what the heck is going on.
    Mike

  9. anon-xtra says:

    Derek, are you aware of the series of papers that claim hydroxylated fullerene derivatives are antineoplastics? These are not cytotoxic- rather it is claimed (and at very low doses, curiously) that the hydroxylated fullerenes ‘activate the immune system’.

  10. barry says:

    further study is needed. Please send more funds! But send them to some other lab. Only INDEPENDENT corroboration is going to persuade anyone and advance the science.

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