Top Japan lab dismisses ground-breaking stem cell study

Haruko Obokata, 31, a researcher at Japan's Riken institute, wipes away tears during a press conference in Osaka, western Japan,
Haruko Obokata, 31, a researcher at Japan's Riken institute, wipes away tears during a press conference in Osaka, western Japan, on April 9, 2014

Japan's top research institute on Friday hammered the final nail in the coffin of what was once billed as a ground-breaking stem cell study, dismissing it as flawed and saying the work could have been fabricated.

The revelations come a week after a young researcher at the centre of the scandal, which has rocked the country's scientific establishment, said she would resign after failing to reproduce the successful conversion of an adult cell into a stem cell-like state, known as "STAP" cells.

The failure marked a stunning fall from grace for 31-year-old Haruko Obokata, whose co-researcher committed suicide amid the embarrassing scandal that prompted respected science journal Nature to retract an article detailing the research.

On Friday the government-backed Riken institute, which sponsored the study, said had been added in the process of the research, hammering Obokata's contention that she had found an easier way to generate new stem cells in the lab.

"But we can't conclude whether the mixing was done on purpose or by mistake nor can we conclude who did it," probe team chief Isao Katsura, head of the National Institute of Genetics, told a news briefing in Tokyo.

In January, Riken trumpeted Obokata's simple method to re-programme adult cells to work like stem cells.

The study was top news in Japan, where the photogenic Obokata, a Harvard-trained scientist, became a phenomenon.

Yoshiki Sasai, supervisor of Haruko Obokata, a scientist at Riken institute, answers questions during a press conference in Toky
Yoshiki Sasai, supervisor of Haruko Obokata, a scientist at Riken institute, answers questions during a press conference in Tokyo, on April 16, 2014

But media attention soon grew into scepticism as doubts emerged about Obokata's papers on Stimulus-Triggered Acquisition of Pluripotency (STAP).

Mistakes were discovered in some data published in two papers, photograph captions were found to be misleading, and the work itself could not be repeated by other scientists.

On Friday the head of the probe team, which was made up of scientists outside the institute and lawyers, said the committee interviewed Obokata three times.

"During the last of our interviews we told her that we had enough evidence to show the mixing-in (of embryonic stem cells)," Katsura said.

"Then, before us asking anything, Ms.Obokata said 'I've never mixed them.'"

Embryonic stem cells are prototype "mother" cells found in early-stage embryos, with the potential to become any kind of tissue in the body. But critics argue that an embryo is a human life, pointing to ethical problems.

Another way of generating from adult skin cells, called induced Pluripotent Stem (iPS), are cumbersome compared with the method which Obokata claimed to have discovered, scientists have said.

Obokata, who earlier said she created STAP cells some 200 times, since July has been trying in tandem with independent teams to reproduce her own results.

She claimed there was a secret knack for creating STAP cells, but has refused to publicise it, asserting it is a subject of her future papers.

As the scandal deepened, Obokata's mentor and co-author, stem cell scientist Yoshiki Sasai, hanged himself, further shaking Japan's scientific establishment.

Riken has pledged to restructure its Center for Developmental Biology where the scandal took place.


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Japan lab cannot repeat ground-breaking cell finding: reports

Journal information: Nature

© 2014 AFP

Citation: Top Japan lab dismisses ground-breaking stem cell study (2014, December 26) retrieved 20 September 2019 from https://phys.org/news/2014-12-japan-lab-dismisses-ground-breaking-stem.html
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Z99
Dec 26, 2014
While fraud is most likely, we should, imho, reserve final judgement since sabotage can't be completely ruled out. Wouldn't it be interesting if the Great results were the result of sabotage? If you can't make your competitors fail, doctor experiments so that they're better than what is actually possible. I don't suppose it all could have been a joke (gone bad), huh?

Dec 26, 2014
I don't understand this part :

"since July has been trying in tandem with independent teams to reproduce her own results."

Okay so she thought she found a way, turned out it was wrong... isn't that how science works. Unless she was lying i don't quite get why such harshness is thrown down towards her as fraud.

Am i missing something?

Dec 28, 2014
I don't understand this part :

"since July has been trying in tandem with independent teams to reproduce her own results."

Okay so she thought she found a way, turned out it was wrong... isn't that how science works. Unless she was lying i don't quite get why such harshness is thrown down towards her as fraud.

Am i missing something?

It's Japan.

Dec 28, 2014
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Dec 28, 2014
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Dec 28, 2014
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Dec 28, 2014
In April Chinese University of Hong Kong's Kenneth Lee http://www.the-sc...-Success - maybe the Obokato just squashed her cells way too much,...

According to that blog:
Update (April 4): In a post at ResearchGate, Lee said he will no longer try to reproduce STAP—at least not in real time on his blog. (Lee:) "Personally, I don't think STAP cells exist and it will be a waste of manpower and research funding to carry on with this experiment any further,"

BSD
Dec 29, 2014
At any case, the way in which Obokato and her collaborators were handled instead of serious attempts for independent replication is quite disgusting -


The system works.

Unlike religion, where the stupid, the childish and gullible have beliefs and faith.

Dec 29, 2014
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