“Those incremental results kept hope alive,” Dr. Field said.
At one scientific meeting, Dr. Murry said he questioned Dr. Anversa’s findings. On a screen, he put up a slide of heart cells from his lab and, next to it, a slide of heart cells from Dr. Anversa’s laboratory. Then he put up a photoshopped image of his lab’s cells. They looked just like the image of the cells from Dr. Anversa’s lab.
In the question and answer period, Dr. Anversa’s colleague and collaborator, Dr. Bernardo Nadal-Ginard, took the microphone to offer a withering riposte to Dr. Murry
“I love Plácido Domingo,” Dr. Nadal-Ginard recalled saying. “I wish I could sing like Plácido Domingo. I try and try to sing like Plácido Domingo, and I fail.”
“You,” he told Dr. Murry, “are not Plácido Domingo.”
It became known as the virtuoso defense.
As Dr. Anversa’s fame grew, along with grants, he earned perhaps the greatest of scientific plaudits in 2007: a professorship at Harvard Medical School and a position at its teaching hospital, Brigham and Women’s, as director of its Center for Regenerative Medicine.
Officials at the hospital and university declined to discuss his hiring. In a statement, the hospital said: “Breakthrough science can often initially be perceived as controversial. Controversy regarding one’s research findings is not enough to rule out an otherwise qualified individual.”
In 2012 a new controversy emerged.
A key member of Dr. Anversa’s team, Dr. Jan Kajstura, was the first author on a paper in Circulation that seemed to offer final proof that the heart can regenerate. He worked with a scientist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Bruce Buchholz, who measured carbon isotope levels in 36 hearts from people ranging in age from 2 to 78. Because of nuclear testing done in the 1950s, older people were exposed to more radioactive isotopes than younger people.
If the body cannot produce new heart cells, the amounts of radioactive carbon should have been higher in the heart cells of older people. But in that paper, Dr. Kajstura and his colleagues reported, older hearts did not have more radioactive carbon. Heart cells are constantly being replaced, they concluded.