More stem cell fakery as a quick way to publication and fame?

Dr Haruko Obokata shot to fame with her stem cell papers photo BBC

Another young researcher, Dr Haruko Obokata has apparently made sensational claims about her stem cell research, shot to fame as lead author in two papers published in Nature and is now in the dock for dodgy images and irreproducible results (perhaps faked).

WSJ: Her co-author, Teruhiko Wakayama of Yamanashi University in Japan, called Monday for the retraction of the findings, published in late January in a pair of papers in the journal Nature.

The papers drew international attention because they held out a safer, easier and more ethical technique for creating master stem cells. These cells, which can be turned into all other body tissues, promise one day to transform the treatment of various ailments, from heart disease to Alzheimer’s. 

But shortly after the papers appeared, Japan’s Riken Center for Developmental Biology, where the work took place, began to investigate alleged irregularities in images used in the papers. Separately, many labs said they couldn’t replicate the results.

A spokesman for Riken said Tuesday that the institution was considering a retraction and that the article’s authors were discussing what to do.

Dr. Wakayama said he has asked the lead author, Haruko Obokata, to retract the studies. “There is no more credibility when there are such crucial mistakes,” he said in an email to The Wall Street Journal.

Dr. Wakayama said he learned Sunday that an image used in Dr. Obokata’s 2011 doctoral thesis had also been used in the Nature papers. “It’s unlikely that it was a careless mistake since it’s from a different experiment from a different time,” he said.

Like several other researchers, Dr. Wakayama said he hasn’t yet been able to reproduce the results. “There is no value in it if the technique cannot be replicated,” he said. 

But another co-author of the papers, Charles Vacanti, a tissue engineer at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, defended the work. “Some mistakes were made, but they don’t affect the conclusions,” he said in an interview Monday. “Based on the information I have, I see no reason why these papers should be retracted.”

Dr. Vacanti—whose early work some 15 years ago spurred the novel experiments—said he was surprised to hear that one of his co-authors asked for the retraction.

Dr. Vacanti said he had spoken to Dr. Obokata on Monday and that she also stood by the research. “It would be very sad to have such an important paper retracted as a result of peer pressure, when indeed the data and conclusions are honest and valid,” said Dr. Vacanti. …..

The papers created a stir because they reported a process by which mouse cells could be returned to an embryonic-like state simply by dipping them in a mild acid solution, creating what they called STAP cells, for stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency. ….

There seems to be a hint of some “academic rivalry” here as well.

Retraction Watch has more:

Nature told the WSJ that it was still investigating the matter. As Nature‘s news section reported last month, lead author

…biologist Haruko Obokata, who is based at the institution…shot to fame as the lead author of two papers12 published in Nature last month that demonstrated a way to reprogram mature mouse cells into an embryonic state by simply applying stress, such as exposure to acid conditions or physical pressure on cell membranes.

But the studies, published online on January 29, soon came under fire. Paul Knoepfler has had a number of detailed posts on the matter, as hasPubPeer.

Stem cell research seems to have more than its fair share of dodgy papers – presumably because sensational results are easier to come by and very much easier to get published.

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