Obokata fails to reproduce ‘STAP cell’ discovery


Embattled scientist Haruko Obokata has failed to produce her so-called STAP cells in experiments at Riken, officials at the research institute and other sources said Thursday, casting further doubt on her claims.

Obokata, a Riken researcher, was the lead author of a pair of papers that claimed to have discovered a new and simpler way to produce pluripotent stem cells, which are capable of developing into any type of tissue, through a process dubbed stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency, or STAP.

Obokata and her team were lauded after their papers on the purported STAP discovery appeared in the prestigious journal Nature earlier this year. The papers were eventually retracted due to allegations of misconduct, and Riken has been trying to verify Obokata’s findings ever since.

The state-backed institute, which said it might halt its attempts to verify Obokata’s method, plans to hold a press conference in Tokyo Friday to announce the results of its verification efforts. Obokata is not expected to attend.

Obokata was allowed to join Riken’s efforts in July under monitoring by a third party. She tried to replicate her own study using genetically manipulated mouse spleen cells that glow green if a gene indicative of pluripotency is activated.

In the course of the experiments, Obokata sometimes succeeded in creating the glowing cells, but only at a very low rate, the sources said. She repeatedly attempted to produce a mouse, a feat which would have illustrated the cells’ pluripotency, by injecting them into the fertilized eggs of another mouse but failed.

A Riken team conducting the experiments said in an interim report in August that it had yet to reproduce STAP cells following the steps outlined in Obokata’s papers, which involved subjecting mouse cells to mildly acidic liquid.

The papers were initially seen as trailblazing when they appeared in the British journal in January. But inconsistencies in them quickly led to allegations of data falsification and fabrication, leading to their retraction in July.

To prevent further misconduct, Riken has revised internal rules to require all staff to receive education on research ethics and stipulate procedures for recording data, Riken sources said.

  • Shinsakan

    I have never heard of a situation where someone was still given a chance to replicate falsified data after the original findings were discredited and could not be reproduced by any other lab in the world. The outcome is of course not surprising. There are many underfunded researchers doing legitimate work who I wish that this wasted money went to instead.

  • John Cai

    so what’s the conclusion? the cells she found pluripotent were actually ESCs? She put them in to the mouse cells intentionally and told the world she found cells became pluripotent under stress?

  • J.P. Bunny

    Act I
    “I’ve created STAP cells, hooray!
    Congratulations! How did you do it?
    Just follow these easy steps, a piece of cake.”
    Act II
    “We’ve followed your instructions, but no joy.
    I’ve done this hundreds of times. You’re not doing it correctly.
    A whole bunch of us brainy people can’t replicate your results. Maybe
    you’ve made a mistake?
    STAP cells are real!” Stamp foot.
    Act III
    “It’s been decided that your data was false, and you really shouldn’t be allowed to play in the lab without parental supervision. However, we shall give you time to work in the lab to show us that you can do what you obviously can’t do.
    I shall now get to work and try to replicate a result that no one other than myself can get.”
    Act IV
    “I can’t do what I said I did, but, I’ll let someone else tell you that.”

  • AndrewMD

    It is truly sad but the request for greatness is even more sad… :(