Riken institute spent ¥145 million on discredited STAP stem cells study

Kyodo, Staff Report

The state-backed Riken research institute spent about ¥145 million from fiscal 2011 to 2014 on its failed study on STAP stem cells and a subsequent investigation into research misconduct, a government watchdog said Friday.

In its annual audit for fiscal 2014, the Board of Audit said the institute spent ¥53.2 million in relation to the study, led by former researcher Haruko Obokata and once touted as a potentially epoch-making breakthrough to create stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency cells.

The expense included about ¥22.8 million for research goods and some ¥16.3 million for personnel costs.

In January 2014, a team led by Obokata published the research in the British science journal Nature and claimed they had managed to reprogram adult mice cells as pluripotent cells by simply soaking them in mildly acidic liquid.

However, discrepancies were soon alleged, and the famed journal in July retracted the report.

The watchdog said in its report that Riken spent about ¥91.7 million on its investigation into research misconduct over the STAP cells issue.

An investigation panel under the research institute concluded in December that the debunked STAP cells were likely created from embryonic stem cells.

In September, research published in the journal Nature said seven laboratories, including from the United States, China and the Netherlands, confirmed that they could not reproduce the stem cells.

Meanwhile, the board also found inadequate accounting procedures at Riken in the procurement of DNA synthesis products, which are used for gene analysis.

According to the audit report, researchers at the institute were not authorized to place procurement orders but spent about ¥382 million on 3,900 orders over three years and eight months.

In light of a 2009 incident where a Riken researcher was arrested for misappropriating research funds by placing fictitious orders, the institute revised its accounting rules so that a department, not individual researchers, would be in charge of procurement contracts, the audit board said.

Riken explained to the audit board that researchers at its labs in Wako, Saitama Prefecture, Tsukuba, Ibaraki Prefecture, Yokohama and Kobe directly placed orders on the basis that possible delays in deliveries would affect their studies.

The research institute said it would take necessary measures to prevent such improprieties in the future.