Editors from the journal Analytical Chemistry raised yellow flags today over a paper on the toxicology of silicone breast implants. The original study, published 1 May in the journal, reported finding high levels of a potentially dangerous form of platinum in the blood and tissues of women who had silicone implants in their bodies for years. Since then, however, experts have disputed several of the methods used to reach the conclusions. Two of those criticisms appear in the 1 August issue of the journal, along with an editorial by two of the journal's editors that says at least one of the paper's method's "falls short of this journal's standard." As a result, the editors advise their readers to "use caution" when evaluating the paper.
The dispute stems from work published by Ernest Lykissa of ExperTox Inc., a toxicology testing company in Deer Park, Texas, and Susan Maharaj of the Center for Research on Environmental Medicine in New Market, Maryland. They reported that the women they studied showed not just high levels of platinum in their body fluids and tissues, but also chemically reactive forms of the metal, including one known as platinum (VI), which is highly reactive and unstable. A less reactive form of platinum was used as a catalyst to make the gels incorporated in many silicone breast implants. Lykissa and Maharaj's report suggested that the platinum turned more reactive in the bodies of women with implants and thus became a possible source of the toxic reactions suffered by those who had silicone implants.
Among the complaints about the work, however, was that Lykissa and Maharaj relied on a device called an ion chromatograph, which is not typically used to differentiate between the reactive forms of platinum. In addition, experts noted that that control subjects had platinum levels that were not statistically different from the experimental subjects, which would not be expected.
Lykissa and Maharaj could not be reached for comment, but the pair has not retracted their paper.
Royce Murray, a chemist at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and Analytical Chemistry's editor, says that the Lykissa and Maharaj paper was sent out to a normal contingent of three reviewers, but that those reviewers failed to catch several problems. As a result, he says, "a mistake was made I think in publishing this paper." Under normal circumstances, Murray says, the journal is willing to let scientific disputes play out in correspondence between critics and authors. However, in this case, he says, "we felt we shouldn't wait for the scientific community to set the record straight because of the public interest."