After staunchly defending her work in a rare, months-long public
feud with the prominent Riken institute she works for, Haruko
Obokata "has now agreed to a retraction" of the papers, a spokesman
for the semi-governmental institute told Reuters on Wednesday.
The January articles in the scientific journal Nature, of which
Obokata was the lead author, detailed simple ways to reprogram
mature animal cells back to an embryonic-like state, allowing them
to generate many different types of tissues - and offering hope for
a way of replacing damaged cells or growing new organs in humans.
But questions soon arose about the research as other scientists were
unable to replicate the startling results. Riken said its
investigations found Obokata had plagiarized and fabricated parts of
the papers, raising doubts about the credibility of Japanese
Under pressure from some of her fellow authors, Obokata agreed to
withdraw a letter that appeared in the journal but refused to
withdraw the two articles, defending the discovery of the cells in
an emotional April news conference. She has not spoken publicly
But on Tuesday, the Riken spokesman said, Obokata signed a paper
approving the withdrawal. He said he had no further details,
including the reason for her change.
Whether Nature will withdraw the article remains unclear, as one of
the co-authors, Charles Vacanti of Boston's Brigham and Women's
Hospital and Harvard University, has not agreed. Typically, all
authors must agree to a withdrawal.
Obokata, 30, became a sensation for her youth and stylishness in
Japan, where scientific discoveries tend to be the province of older
men. Media hailed her as a potential Nobel prize winner and role
model but also spent hours on her fashion sense and use of a
traditional Japanese apron in the laboratory.
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Hailed by the global scientific community, the Nature papers
initially drew acclaim for Obokata and for Riken, one of Japan's top
scientific research institutes.
The scandal over the papers set off soul-searching in the Japanese
scientific community, which critics say has long been hindered by a
hierarchical old-boy network biased towards older faculty and a
reluctance to question authority.
Obokata's university said it would re-examine the doctoral
dissertations of several hundred students after allegations that she
had plagiarized there as well, and the head of the Riken panel
investigating her had to resign after admitting that he had used
some of the same techniques she was criticized for in a paper that
Even chemistry Nobel Laureate Shinya Yamanaka called a news
conference to apologize for sloppy record-keeping after questions
were raised about images in one of his papers, although he was
cleared of wrongdoing.
(Reporting by Elaine Lies; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)
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