Japan stem cell scientist stands by 'phoney' research (Update)

Apr 09, 2014 by Kyoko Hasegawa

A young female scientist accused of fabricating data made a tearful apology live on Japanese television Wednesday for "mistakes" in her research, but insisted her ground-breaking conclusions on stem cells were accurate.

Haruko Obokata, 30, blamed her youth and inexperience for errors in her methodology, but said she had managed to create the building-block cells capable of growing into the specialised cells of the brain, liver, heart or kidneys.

"I apologise with my whole heart to my co-authors... and many others for causing trouble because of my insufficient efforts, ill-preparedness and unskilfulness," a visibly shaken Obokata told a press conference.

"To many people there may be too many unbelievable mistakes, but that does not affect the conclusion," she said.

Obokata was feted as a modern-day Marie Curie after unveiling research that showed a simple way to re-programme adult cells to become a kind of stem cell.

So-called Stimulus-Triggered Acquisition of Pluripotency (STAP) cells were hailed as a breakthrough that could provide a ready supply of the base material for much-needed transplant tissue, at minimal cost.

Campaigners said it represented a leap forward in the fight against degenerative diseases.

If the science was important, Obokata's profile—a young woman in a world dominated by middle-aged men—proved irresistable to Japan's media.

Journalists were beguiled by eccentricities that included her insistence on wearing a housewife's apron in the laboratory, instead of a white coat.

But within weeks of her paper being published in the prestigious journal Nature, questions began to emerge, with fellow scientists saying they could not replicate her results.

The respected Riken Institute, which sponsored the research, launched an inquiry and declared last week that the study was flawed.

This "amounts to phoney research or fabrication" by Obokata, Shunsuke Ishii, head of Riken's probe committee, told a press conference after it was revealed Obokata had cut-and-pasted illustrations used in other studies.

On Wednesday she accepted that the way she had presented the data was not right, but insisted it had been done for cosmetic reasons and not to alter the outcome.

"I thought there would be no problem as long as I could show the results properly," she said Wednesday.

"People say I should retract the papers, but doing so will mean that the outcome of my research is completely wrong. I can't say that to the world because the outcome is right."

Obokata on Tuesday submitted a formal complaint to Riken over its declaration that the study was bogus, demanding it reverse its decision and stand by her work.

Kyodo News reported that Riken's rules require that an investigative panel scrutinise her objection and give its findings within 50 days.

If it finds against her, she will be "disciplined" by the institute, which said this week it was launching a year-long study to establish if there was any truth in Obokata's findings.

On Wednesday the young scientist choked back sobs during a two-and-a-half-hour press conference carried on at least two television channels, in which she insisted: "STAP cells do exist. I successfully made STAP cells at least 200 times."

She said she did not believe her study should be retracted and she hoped to announce new research showing "a certain recipe" to create the cells.

"If there is any future for an inexperienced person like me as a researcher, I want to keep working towards the development of STAP cells to a level that could be helpful to someone," she said.

Explore further: Japan stem cell scientist readies to fight fabrication claim

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betterexists
not rated yet Apr 09, 2014
Is she Sister OR Daughter of Obamama?
May be Cousin.
betterexists
not rated yet Apr 09, 2014
Hope her work works out good.
One is Feminine Name & The Other is Masculine/Indonesian!
Is she Sister OR Daughter of Obamama?
May be Cousin.
betterexists
not rated yet Apr 09, 2014
Wearing a housewife's apron in the Laboratory, instead of a white coat INDICATES that she has no regard for SCIENCE whatsoever but only to HER RELIGIOUS INSTITUTION...Unless there are Several Other Japanese Girl Scientists before her who had already started that fad!
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (2) Apr 09, 2014
Wearing a housewife's apron in the Laboratory, instead of a white coat INDICATES that she has no regard for SCIENCE whatsoever

A lab coat is a functional piece of clothing, that prevents your other clothes from getting dirty (most are also somewhat more resistant to acids or other aggressive substances than your regular t-shirt). In some other situations it may serve to prevent contamination of samples (clean room situations).
In any other context you probably won't find scientists running around in one as they are not very comfortable.
For the most part scientists wear what everyone else does at work: That which they came in off of the street, and any kind of garmet that is practical - which can even be an apron (worn one myself when tinkering with hardware to avoid metal filings on my shirt).

You will find that in he lab is the one place where you will never find anyone dressed according to some fad. No one cares about that, there.
Jaeherys
not rated yet May 29, 2014
I completely second antialias! I only wear a lab coat when im working with cells to prevent their contamination or when i want to prevent myself from getting chemicals on me. They are hot, cumbersome when trying to move around swiftly, and if you wear the same thing every day, they get smelly. I wear shorts and a t-shift most days, it's just too damn hot in the lab!

Secondly, as soon as i read this paper i was floored. It was top notch, beautiful, and had an amazingly large sample number. She produced, if i remember correctly, over 100 mice from stem cells and showed almost the same term efficiency as primary embryonic cells (how well STAP cells vs primary EBs grow into a baby mouse). To top it all off, it was damn easy to do! I immediately went to work trying to replicate it with human primary placental fibroblasts but they secret LIF, and seems to be interfering with its role in STAP production. So my results have been promising but no stem cells as of yet :(.