Riken panel says Obokata’s STAP overseers should quit

Kyodo

A committee of outside experts reviewing operations at the government-affiliated Riken research institute will call for a change in top management, including urging the resignation of a director and a deputy who advised cytologist Haruko Obokata, a Riken source said.

The committee believes it is essential to identify who to hold responsible for the publication of work that was criticized as substandard, to prevent future debacles at the country’s leading research institute, the source said Tuesday.

The reform panel was set up in April in response to allegations of misconduct by Obokata, a stem-cell researcher at the Riken Center for Developmental Biology in Kobe.

The reform committee plans to call on Masatoshi Takeichi, director of the Kobe center, and Deputy Director Yoshiki Sasai, an adviser to Obokata, to step down, the source said.

Given that the center maintains a high degree of independence in its operations, the panel appears unlikely to lay blame on executives at the institute’s headquarters in Wako, Saitama Prefecture, such as Ryoji Noyori, the Nobel chemistry laureate who leads Riken as president, the source said.

The reform panel was particularly disturbed to find that the Kobe center failed to vet Obokata fully when appointing her to head a high-profile research project and that it provided too little advice after her hiring, the source said.

The reform committee of third-party university professors and a lawyer is led by Teruo Kishi, head of the Innovative Structural Materials Association.

A separate disciplinary committee at Riken is considering taking punitive measures against Obokata and other people involved.

Obokata made headlines worldwide as the lead author of a study published in late January about stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency STAP cells, which purported to show that under certain conditions they could grow into any type of tissue. Riken earlier said Obokata has agreed to retract the study, after allegations of data falsification and fabrication emerged.