Image anomalies cast shadow on acid-bath stem-cell study

February 18, 2014 by Bob Yirka report
Stress-treated lymphocytes expressed pluripotency marker Oct4. Right: STAP cells. Credit: Haruko Obokata

( —Japanese research center RIKEN has opened an investigation, Nature is reporting, related to reports of anomalies with images published in the same journal as part of a paper on a revolutionary approach to generating stem cells.

The paper, titled "Stimulus-triggered fate conversion of into pluripotency" described an acid-bath approach the team used to generate the type of that can grow into any body part. The approach was so much simpler than current methods that it created quite a stir in biology labs across the world. Soon after publication of the paper last month, however, comments began appearing on science blogs noting what appeared to be anomalies or inconsistencies with some of the that were published along with the paper. Some suggested that one image had been spliced, others that parts of a placenta shown in one image may have been reused in another. As questions about the images used in the paper have grown, it appears that RIKEN, the institute where lead author and researcher Haruko Obokata works, has decided to look a little deeper to find out what is going on.

Complicating the issue is that several research organizations have reported that they have thus far been unable to reproduce the results claimed by Obokata et al, though all have acknowledged publicly that they have not used the same types of cells in their experiments and that while the procedure sounds relatively straight forward, it's actually very difficult to carry out.

Problems with images in a don't necessarily mean there are problems with the research, as other posters have noted. It could be simple communication problems between writers and/or the publisher. One of the authors listed on the paper, Charles Vacanti, told Nature that he believes the image problems are due to a mix-up of some sort during the publication process—he's requested a correction.

For its part, Nature, in posting an announcement about the move by RIKEN, appears to be taking the wait and see approach—they note that the image inconsistencies appear to cast doubt on the paper as a whole, but refrain from commenting on its own vetting process as it applied to the it published. Obokata has not responded to queries from Nature or anyone else, though she and her team are reportedly working to uncover the source of the problem with the images and will be publishing a reply in Nature at some point.

Explore further: New simple way to reset cells could be transplant "game changer"

Related Stories

Stress gives cells a 'second childhood'

February 10, 2014

What doesn't kill cells may make them stronger—or considerably more flexible, at least. New findings from Haruko Obokata of the RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology in Kobe and Charles Vacanti at Brigham and Women's Hospital ...

Researchers create embryonic stem cells without embryo

January 29, 2014

( —Since the discovery of human embryonic stem cells, scientists have had high hopes for their use in treating a wider variety of diseases because they are pluripotent, which means they are capable of differentiating ...

A paradigm-shifting step in stem cell research

December 31, 2013

( —A team of engineers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison has created a process that may revolutionize stem cell research. The process, outlined in a paper published in Stem Cells on December 19, 2013, will ...

Researchers create image of weak hydrogen bond using AFM

October 1, 2013

( —Researchers at China's National Center for Nanoscience and Technology and Renmin University have used Atomic Force Microscopy (AFM) to create an image of the weak hydrogen bonds present in a molecule. In their ...

Recommended for you

World's smallest tape recorder is built from microbes

November 23, 2017

Through a few clever molecular hacks, researchers at Columbia University Medical Center have converted a natural bacterial immune system into a microscopic data recorder, laying the groundwork for a new class of technologies ...

A possible explanation for how germlines are rejuvenated

November 23, 2017

(—A pair of researchers affiliated with the University of California and Calico Life Sciences, has discovered a possible explanation regarding how human germlines are rejuvenated. In their paper published in the ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.