Posts Tagged ‘stem cells’

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

March 11, 2014

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.

Vatican — duping or duped about VSEL stem cells?

July 29, 2013

Vatican theologians have a long history of going to extraordinary lengths and convolutions to align theology with every new scientific advance. It has not been unknown for theologians to try and massage the facts and to direct new research along theologically “acceptable” paths.

The Vatican – and other religious organisations – consider the use of adult stem cells to be ethically quite acceptable whereas they consider the use of embryonic stem cells to be unethical since it involves the “murder” of the embryos. And they have put their weight behind VSEL (very small embryonic-like) stem cells. But they have gone overboard in promoting the possible benefits of the use of adult stem cells even to the extent of holding conferences about the potential benefits. But many researchers are appalled by theology overriding science and holding out false hopes.

Nature: April 2013

The Second International Vatican Adult Stem Cell meeting, held on 11–13 April in Vatican City, was a shamelessly choreographed performance. Sick children were paraded for television, sharing the stage with stem-cell companies and scientists desperate to hawk a message that their therapies must be speeded to clinical use. ….

A kilometre away at the Italian senate, meanwhile, parliamentarians further eroded protection for vulnerable patients targeted by stem-cell companies. On 10 April, they amended an already controversial ministerial decree (see Nature 495, 418–419; 2013) with a clause that would redefine stem-cell therapy as tissue transplantation, thereby releasing it from any regulatory oversight. If the second parliamentary chamber endorses this amendment, Italy will be out of step with the rules of the European Union and the US Food and Drug Administration, both of which define stem cells modified outside the body as medicines.

Many scientists around the world were appalled by the events in Rome, and rightly so. It is wrong to exploit the desperation of the disabled and the terminally ill and to raise false hopes of quick fixes, as some at the Vatican meeting tried to do. It is also wrong to try to use such patients as experimental animals by bypassing regulatory agencies, as the Italian parliament seems to want to do. ….

Now it seems that the Vatican has either been duped about very small embryonic-like stem cells or has been involved in perpetuating the myth that these cells even exist and offer an alternative.


Scientists at Stanford University School of Medicine issued a report this month that said a type of stem-cell alternative approved by the Vatican and other theologians has turned out to be a myth. According to an essay by bioethicist Arthur Caplan, Dr. Irving Weissman and his team have concluded that so-called very small embryonic-like (VSEL) stem cells are at best a laboratory error and at worst a deliberate fraud perpetrated on the scientific and religious communities.

In 2011, the Vatican called a press conference to present Polish stem cell biologist Mariusz Z. Ratajczak, who claimed that he had discovered heretofore unknown stem cells present in adult cells. These tiny cells, he claimed, could perform the same tasks as embryonic stem cells, including tissue regeneration and the miraculous capacity that embryonic stem cells have to mimic other types of cell tissue. Moreover, these VSEL cells, said Ratajczak, could be harvested from adult cells without harming human embryos or relying on them for cell material.

“The theologians,” wrote Caplan, “were delighted.” They believed that the new technology could halt what they see as the murder of unborn children. The Vatican took the unprecedented step of investing heavily in NeoStem, a company claiming to specialize in VSEL research and production, in hopes that the new technology would render the destruction of embryos for stem cells obsolete. ….. The trouble is, the cells don’t exist. At least, according to Weissman, who said that his team not only hasn’t been able to make VSELs perform their tissue-regenerative miracles in the laboratory, they can’t find them at all. …

….. Rüdiger Alt, head of research at Vita 34, an umbilical cord blood bank in Leipzig, Germany — whose team also failed to get results from Ratajczak’s methods — told the journal Nature, “Weissman’s evidence is a clincher — it is the end of the road for VSELs.”

Bioethicist Caplan wrote that supporters of VSEL research “say their peers just don’t have the techniques down for finding them. But it is just as likely that in their hope to find a solution to stem cell research acceptable to the Roman Catholic Church and other religious groups they have let themselves find something that is just not there.”

He concluded, “Until someone other then those tied to the power of VSELS for religious or business reasons can find them, be wary of any claims about their power to heal.”

%d bloggers like this: