Two papers published in the scientific journal
Nature in January detailed simple ways to reprogram mature animal
cells back to an embryonic-like state, allowing them to generate
many types of tissues.
Such a step would offer hope for a simpler way to replace damaged
cells or grow new organs in humans.
But reports have since pointed out irregularities in data and images
used in the papers, prompting RIKEN, a semi-governmental research
institute and employer of the lead writer, to set up a panel to look
into the matter.
The panel said, for example, that one of the articles reused images
related to lead writer Haruko Obokata's doctoral dissertation, which
was on different experiments.
"Actions like this completely destroy data credibility," Shunsuke
Ishii, head of the committee, told a news conference.
"There is no doubt that she was fully aware of this danger.
"We've therefore concluded this was an act of research misconduct
In a statement, Obokata said she would soon file a complaint with
RIKEN, challenging the findings.
"I'm filled with shock and indignation," she said. "If things stay
as they are, misunderstanding could arise that the discovery of STAP
cells itself is forgery. That would be utterly unacceptable."
Obokata, 30, refers to the reprogrammed embryonic-like cells in her
team's research by the term Stimulus-Triggered Acquisition of
Pluripotency, or STAP, cells.
RIKEN may reinvestigate the matter if a complaint is filed. It has
not decided what penalty may be imposed on the researcher, the
research body said.
Obokata became an instant celebrity in Japan after the publication
of her papers, with television broadcasting images of her wearing a
traditional Japanese apron, rather than a lab coat, and working in a
laboratory with pink-painted walls.
RIKEN did not confirm or deny the existence of STAP cells, but said
it planned to launch a verification process to see if they were
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That will take about a year to complete and will be led by RIKEN
President Ryoji Noyori, a 2001 Nobel laureate in chemistry.
"This is truly regrettable," Noyori said, referring to the probe
"I would like to apologize afresh that articles RIKEN researchers
published have damaged the credibility of the scientific community,"
he said, bowing to reporters as camera flashes went off.
According to the Nature papers and media briefings, Obokata and
other researchers took skin and blood cells, let them multiply and
then subjected them to stress "almost to the point of death" by
exposing them to events such as trauma, low oxygen levels and acidic
Within days, the scientists — Japanese researchers joined by others
from Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School in the
United States — said they had found the cells had not only survived
but had also recovered by naturally reverting to a state similar to
that of an embryonic stem cell.
These stem cells were then able to differentiate and mature into
different types of cells and tissues, depending on the environments
they were put in, they said.
RIKEN said outside researchers had been unable to replicate the
(Reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka; editing by Clarence Fernandez)
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