A probe into possible “research misconduct” by the authors of two potentially revolutionary papers on pluripotent stem cells turned up two instances of deliberate falsification, a committee set up for the task by the government-backed Riken institute said Tuesday.
“We judged there were two cases of research misconduct by (Haruko) Obokata,” Riken senior scientist Shunsuke Ishii, chair of the six-member panel, told reporters in Tokyo.
Obokata, a Riken researcher, was the lead author of the two now-doubtful papers on a new method of stem cell generation published in the British science journal Nature in January.
In its final report released Tuesday, the committee concluded that an image used in one of the papers was “a composite . . . created from two separate images,” and therefore represented “an act of research misconduct corresponding to falsification.”
The report also said Obokata had used images “that very closely resembled images in her doctoral thesis” for Waseda University, created under different research conditions, and concluded there was “an act of research misconduct involving fabrication.”
The final report also noted Obokata’s “actions and sloppy data management lead us to the conclusion that she sorely lacks, not only a sense of research ethics, but also integrity and humility as a scientific researcher.”
Ishii added that her two co-authors, professor Teruhiko Wakayama of the University of Yamanashi, and Yoshiki Sasai, deputy head of the Riken Center for Developmental Biology, to which Obokata belongs, did not commit misconduct, but bore “grave responsibility” for failing to verify the data in the papers.
Ishii repeatedly declined to comment on whether STAP (stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency) cells even exist, saying it was beyond the scope of the committee’s mission to confirm that.
At a news conference later in the day, Riken President Ryoji Noyori apologized for the fact that “papers authored by researchers at Riken have harmed the public’s trust in the scientific community.”
Noyori said the institute has notified the researchers of the committee’s findings and will recommend that one of the two Nature papers be withdrawn. The institute will also form a committee to determine how to discipline the researchers.
Obokata has until April 9 to file an appeal against the committee’s report.
Separately on Tuesday, Obokata released a statement expressing “shock and outrage” at the panel’s conclusion.
“I cannot possibly agree with the decision that the two ‘benevolent mistakes’ have been judged to amount to fabrication and falsification,” Obokata said.
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