Two groups of researchers are demanding the removal of a paper published in the journal Scientific Reports that may undermine confidence in a vaccine designed to prevent cervical cancer, according to a report from Science Magazine.

The paper, published on Nov. 11, claims a vaccine for human papillomavirus (HPV) resulted in impaired mobility and brain damage when given to mice. The results call into question the safety of an important vaccine that has been approved for use in more than 120 countries.

However, critics of the paper claim the results are skewed by faulty practices. The tests documented in the paper injected the mice with doses of the vaccine proportionally a thousand times greater than the dose provided to people.

It also gave the mice a toxin that causes leaks in the blood–brain barrier, membrane that separates circulating blood from brain fluid in the central nervous system.

“Basically, this is an utterly useless paper, a waste of precious animals,” David Gorski, a surgical oncologist at the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute in Detroit, wrote in a blog post. “Worse, it’s animal torture—and I mean that literally—for no good scientific reason.”

Joining Gorski in his displeasure with the report were 20 members of the HPV Prevention and Control Board at the University of Antwerp in Belgium. In a letter directed to Scientific Reports publisher Nature Publishing Group, the group wrote, “this experimental setup in no way mimics the immunization with HPV vaccines but is gross over dosage and manipulation of membrane permeability.”

A second letter sent to the publisher from David Hawkes, a viro
logist at the University of Melbourne in Australia, and two of his colleagues argued the paper “lacks a clear methodology, adequate controls to control for bias, descriptions of results consistent with the data presented, or enough information for this study to be reproduced.”

A Science Reports spokesperson confirmed to Science Magazine that it received the letters and said, “We investigate every concern that is raised with us carefully and will take action where appropriate.”

The authors of the paper defended their work, telling Science Magazine, “Our manuscript was formally published after an intensive scientific review done by reviewers and by the editorial board of Scientific Reports .”

The spread of the report could do considerable damage to the reputation of the vaccine, which has already saved thousands of lives since being introduced in 2006. According to a 2013 study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, HPV prevalence decreased by 56 percent among female teenagers 14-19 years of age after the introduction of the vaccine.

Scientific Reports came under fire last year after launching a pilot project that allowed for “fast track” publishing if paper authors agree to pay an additional fee. The pay-to-publish program led to a prominent member of the journal’s editorial advisory panel to resign.