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Prevalence and impact of incorrect cancer research publications targeting the functions of human genes


This PhD project analyses the reliability of the cancer research literature, from which new cancer biomarkers and molecular targets are derived.


Professor Jennifer Byrne.

Research location

NSW Health Statewide Biobank

Program type



Incorrect published research results are a major problem in scientific research, by wasting resources, slowing research translation, and reducing trust in science and the use of the scientific method. One major source of incorrect published results is the use of incorrect experimental reagents. We have previously described highly similar pre-clinical cancer research publications that are often characterized by incorrect nucleotide sequence reagents (1, 2). These publications frequently described the cellular and molecular effects of knocking down single human genes in human cancer cell line models (1-3). As we expand our analyses, we have identified other biomedical publication types with incorrect nucleotide sequence reagents (3). These results have led to our hypothesis that incorrect nucleotide sequence reagents may be frequently undetected during peer review and after publication, and represent an underestimated source of error in the gene-focused research literature.
Professor Byrne's team is currently funded by the NHMRC to apply a semi-automated screening tool Seek & Blastn (3) to identify papers with wrongly identified nucleotide sequence reagents within the cancer research literature. PhD projects are available in the following areas:
1. Applying reagent fact-checking tools to analyze the gene-focused cancer research literature
2. Defining the impact of incorrect gene-focused cancer research publications on knowledge of human gene function and its application in translational research

1. Byrne JA, Labbé C (2017). Striking similarities between publications from China describing single gene knockdown experiments in human cancer cell lines. Scientometrics. 110:1471-93.
2. Byrne JA, Grima N, Capes-Davis A, Labbé C (2019). The possibility of systematic research fraud targeting under-studied human genes: causes, consequences and potential solutions. Biomarker Insights. 14:1-12.
3. Labbé C, Grima N, Gautier T, Favier B, Byrne JA (2019). Semi-automated fact-checking of nucleotide sequence reagents in biomedical research publications: the Seek & Blastn tool. PLOS ONE. 14:e0213266.

Additional information

Jennifer Byrne has spent her scientific career analyzing childhood and adult cancers at a molecular level. Professor Byrne is currently Director of Biobanking with NSW Health Pathology, and Professor of Molecular Oncology in the School of Medical Sciences, Faculty of Medicine and Health. She was recognised as one of the Nature journal's "Ten people who mattered" in 2017.

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Opportunity ID

The opportunity ID for this research opportunity is 94