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Obokata to address STAP study controversy Wednesday

Kyodo

The researcher accused by the state-backed Riken institute of manipulating and fabricating parts of her purportedly trailblazing study on a new stem cell technique will hold a news conference Wednesday afternoon, her lawyer said Monday.

Haruko Obokata, a researcher at the Riken Center for Developmental Biology, one of the institute’s research units, will file an objection Tuesday over her employer’s conclusion that she falsified data as the lead author of two papers on so-called STAP cells.

Wednesday’s news conference, scheduled to be held at a hotel in Osaka, will be her first public appearance since the young researcher announced her findings in the journal Nature around late January.

Under mental and physical strain from the ordeal, however, Obokata, 30, was hospitalized Monday, her lawyer Hideo Miki said.

In a related development, Waseda University said the same day that it has decided to re-examine all doctoral theses completed in its school of advanced science and engineering.

Riken has said Obokata, a Waseda graduate, fabricated data in one of the Nature papers by using a set of images resembling those used in her doctoral dissertation at Waseda in 2011. The Tokyo school set up a panel in late March to look into alleged irregularities in her thesis as well.

According to university sources, 280 doctoral theses written by researchers other than Obokata are subject to the investigation. If fraudulence is discovered, the university will consider stripping the writer of his or her degree.

Waseda’s school of advanced science and engineering was established in 2007. Obokata earned a doctorate there in 2011.

In the Nature papers, Obokata and her co-authors said they had found a simple way to produce cells featuring “stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency,” which like stem cells allows them to grow into any type of tissue in the human body.

Irregularities found in the papers, however, have prompted Riken to consider withdrawing the papers until they can verify her work by replicating her STAP cell findings.

A Riken official said Monday that Obokata will not be a member of the team performing the one-year verification test but that it hopes to get her help because she may indeed have a unique technique for producing STAP cells, the official said.