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Misconduct found in Japanese stem cell research

Researcher tampered with images in report describing STAP cells, institute investigation finds

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3:17pm, April 1, 2014

ANOTHER LOOK  Stem cell-like cells called STAP cells were reported to be able to make every type of cell in a mouse fetus and some parts of the placenta. A new investigation concludes that the lead researcher falsified some parts of the report.

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A Japanese researcher who recently created a sensation for reporting that dipping adult cells in acid can easily make them into stem cells is guilty of scientific misconduct, investigators at Japan’s RIKEN Institute announced April 1.

The acid method of making a type of stem cells known as STAP cells (SN: 2/22/14, p. 6) came under fire as soon as it appeared in two papers in Nature at the end of January (SN Online: 2/19/14). Many researchers have tried and failed to repeat the feat (SN Online: 3/10/14). Other scientists have pointed out that some pictures in the reports appear to have been tampered with or repeated, and some passages of text are identical to parts of other publications.

Now the RIKEN Institute, where much of the research was conducted, has completed an initial examination and found that lead researcher Haruko Obokata committed fraud by deliberately altering some of the images. Obokata said in a written statement that she received the ruling with feelings of “indignation and surprise,” and that she would appeal.

RIKEN is attempting to replicate the creation of STAP cells, but Masatoshi Takeichi, director of the RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology, cautioned in a statement that confirmation could take a year.

Nature has not said whether Obokata and colleagues’ reports will be retracted, as some coauthors have requested. The journal is conducting its own investigation.

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