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Stem Cell Scientist Fails to Reproduce Results

The STAP stem cell scandal at Japan’s RIKEN research institute officially came to a close on Friday where it was announced at an Osaka news conference that Haruko Obokata, the stem cell scientist behind the research, was unable to replicate her results in a recent set of experiments.

by Lab Manager
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Back in July, two research papers dealing with the STAP (Stimulus-trigged fate conversion of somatic cells into pluripotency) method were retracted due to allegations of plagiarism and data falsification. The STAP method, originally hailed as a breakthrough in the stem cell field, claimed that stem cells could be created through a simple technique involving blood cells. 

The retractions led to the suicide of Obokata’s mentor, the resignation of several other researchers involved in the STAP study, and an investigation by a RIKEN committee which ended in findings of research misconduct. Obokata appealed the decision in April but the committee decided not to re-investigate. However they did “proceed with the necessary measures stipulated in RIKEN’s Regulations on the Prevention of Research Misconduct” which involved efforts to verify the results of the STAP study, according to a May 2014 press release on the RIKEN website. 

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“Dr. Obokata has been unable to reproduce the … phenomenon,” RIKEN biologist Shinichi Aizawa, who led those verification efforts, said at the Friday news conference, according to the Wall Street Journal as quoted by the Washington Post. “While we initially planned to continue efforts until March, we will end the experiments at this point.” 

Obotaka, who initially stood by her original research but now admits she is confused by the results, also announced her resignation from RIKEN, the Post reported on Friday. 

Washington Post writer Terrence McCoy pointed out that the STAP situation brought up key issues of intense pressure on young Japanese researchers to perform, an unhealthy research environment, a rush to publish, and the potential for loss of public trust in stem cell research, issues which will need to be addressed going forward. 

- With files from the Washington Post