‘STAP cells’ claimed by Obokata were likely embryonic stem cells


Staff Writer

An investigative panel under the state-backed Riken research institute said Friday that the debunked STAP cells generated by one of its scientists were likely created instead from embryonic stem cells.

It also said it identified two further instances of research misconduct by the lead author of the reports, Haruko Obokata.

The panel “concluded STAP stem cells . . . were derived from ES cells, based on examinations of the remaining samples,” Isao Katsura, director general of the National Institute of Genetics and head of the seven-member panel, told reporters in Tokyo.

“The papers’ core claims are refuted, since the introduction of ES cells was indicated,” Katsura said.

Katsura said tissuelike growths known as teratomas and artificially created, or chimeric, mice claimed to have been grown from STAP cells were probably grown from ES cells instead. The formation of teratomas and chimeras is considered key to proving the existence of pluripotent stem cells, biological building blocks that can be coaxed into developing into any type of tissue.

However, the panel was unable to determine who introduced the embryonic stem cells, and whether it happened deliberately or by accident, citing insufficient evidence.

Moreover, the panel, which had been investigating the two papers on stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency published in the British science journal Nature, found two more instances of research misconduct by Obokata in connection with data in one of the papers.

“We concluded Obokata fabricated data for two charts on the growth curves of (‘STAP’) cells and DNA methylation,” Katsura said.

A separate Riken panel earlier this year found two separate instances of misconduct. Those findings, and related allegations, prompted Riken to set up the panel headed by Katsura in September. Obokata resigned from the institute on Sunday.

Meanwhile, Katsura cleared Teruhiko Wakayama and Hitoshi Niwa, two co-authors, of misconduct. He added that the panel did not investigate Yoshiki Sasai, a co-author who had overseen Obokata’s writing and who committed suicide in August.

The papers published in Nature in January said the researchers had managed to reprogram adult mice cells as pluripotent cells by simply soaking them in mildly acidic liquid.

Discrepancies were soon alleged, and in July the journal retracted the reports.

After a news conference by the panel, Riken President Ryoji Noyori issued a statement apologizing for the loss of trust caused by the scandal.

He said Riken’s disciplinary committee will resume its work. It was set up in May in after the scandal broke but has remained dormant pending the outcome of the probe.

Mutsuhiro Arinobu, Riken’s executive director in charge of compliance, declined to comment on who could be penalized, saying it is up to the disciplinary committee to decide that.

Meanwhile, Maki Kawai, executive director in charge of research affairs at Riken, said it had been unable to reach Obokata, and thus had not conveyed its findings to her.

  • rossdorn

    Seems that unlike comfort women, STAP cells did not exist…

    Oh, Japan….

  • Steve Jackman

    Insularity breeds delusion. Take note, Japan!

  • GBR48

    This is the equivalent of investigating the sinking of the Titanic and determining that it was down to water.

    It seems that Riken’s ability to conduct an investigation is as poor as its general oversight.

    No scientist conducts such a ground-breaking experiment once and then publishes without replicating it to check their results with a control, so anything untoward would have to have taken place repeatedly.

    No scientist fakes an experiment and then publishes, as the first thing every other scientist in the field would do, is attempt to replicate the results.

    And if you think Obokata was young, she was old enough to sterilise a pipette. Marie Curie was isolating Polonium at that age. Was her experiment sabotaged? What are the responses of those involved? Did the co-authors not replicate or witness the work? They are ‘co-responsible’ for the paper and would no doubt have claimed their share of the glory. Was Obokata pressurised to publish what amounted to ‘lab work in progress’ that had not been fully checked?

    Was it really just a case of seeing fluorescence and then publishing without doing the most basic checks that an undergraduate would be expected to carry out?

    So Riken, go back and do your investigation again, and this time do it properly so you can tell the world what really happened. If you aren’t capable of that, get a third party to do it.

    And being Japan, the friends of those involved might like to keep a close eye on them. This farce has already cost the life of one person, which is one too many.