WASHINGTON – A refined protocol for generating so-called STAP cells was posted Thursday on a researcher website for Brigham and Women’s Hospital, which is where a co-author of controversial papers on potentially groundbreaking stem cell research works.
“We have found this to be an effective protocol for generating STAP cells in our lab, regardless of the cell type being studied,” according to the introduction to the post, whose author was not specified.
Charles Vacanti of Harvard Medical School is currently affiliated with the hospital. He is a former adviser to Japanese researcher Haruko Obokata, who led a group of authors who wrote two papers on “stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency,” or STAP.
The papers on generating pluripotent stem cells by subjecting ordinary cells to certain types of stress, such as submersion in a weak acid, drew global attention after being published in the British science journal Nature in late January.
But skepticism later spread due to the inability to reproduce the claimed experimental results. The government-affiliated Riken institute, to which Obokata belongs, admitted last week there were aspects of serious malpractice in the way data was handled in the papers. Obokata as well as her Japanese co-authors agreed to retract the papers.
Vacanti, however, has been opposing the retraction, saying in an earlier statement, “In the absence of compelling evidence that the data presented is incorrect, I do not believe that the manuscripts should be retracted.”
The refined protocol, which explains how to generate STAP cells in steps for two circumstances, is “a combination of the two most effective approaches” described in the papers published in Nature, according to the post on the Brigham and Women’s Hospital website.
So far it has fallen short of convincing other researchers. Paul S. Knoepfler, a leading stem cell researcher and associate professor at the University of California, said of the protocol in a blog post, “There is no mention of efficiency, validation, expected results . . . and a whole lot more.
“Puzzlingly, the protocol in addition has no listed authors and is not signed,” Knoepfler wrote.