A Japan laboratory funded by Japanese government has accused a research celebrity of falsifying research about cell regeneration papers. Haruko Obokata was the lead writer of papers that claimed cells could be reprogrammed from maturity to embryonic-like state. The lab, RIKEN, is Japan’s head research body and has since accused Obokata of misconduct.
After the publication of her papers, Obokata was featured on television in Japan, wearing a traditional Japanese apron garment to replace her lab coat and was seen in a lab with decorative pink walls. This appearance lead her to becoming an A list star of the research world in Japan. The paper’s findings were regarding knew knowledge about stem cells and were highly regarded for a time.
The January publication of Nature, a scientific journal, featured two of her papers. With her research team, she had found an uncomplicated method of regenerating older animal cells back to younger stages that mimicked an embryonic stage. This would allow them to create other types of tissues, and eventually could have provided hope for growing human organs or easily renewing damaged cells.
They discovered the regeneration process by using skin and blood cells. While those were multiplying, the team affected the cells with low oxygen, acid, and with these traumas drove them to “almost the point of death.” After several days, the cells were not only alive but had recovered by reverting back to a state similar to an embryonic stem cell. The cells could then mature into a variety of different tissues which was determined by the environments they were placed in. She has named them STAP, or Stimulus-Triggered Acquisition of Pluripotency.
The STAP technology would be impressive if proven. However, falsification of the papers has put the Japanese lab findings regarding the cell regeneration under suspicion. RIKEN has since found that no other teams have been able to duplicate this research, and the data has irregularities. Additionally, Obokata used images featured in the paper were questionable, such as one that was originally part of her unrelated doctoral dissertation which showed unrelated experiments.
Shunsuke Ishii is head of a panel that RIKEN has formed to look into their employee. Ishii said that Obokata’s actions completely take credibility from her data and has concluded “ this was an act of research misconduct involving fabrication,” because it is clear that Obokata knew the danger of her actions.
Obokata herself reports indignation and shock regarding the malpractice accusations, and will be filing a counter complaint with RIKEN for challenging her findings. She has maintained her position that she has done nothing wrong with her publications. She is concerned that this matter could cause confusion that the entire discovery was forged. “That would be utterly unacceptable,” she said.
RIKEN will be conducting their own experiments to research the validity of the STAP cells, however, so far they have not been able to comment on their existence. Either way, Obokata’s will require more investigation and a penalty which the company has yet to decide on or implement.
Since the Japanese lab has found the falsification in the papers, the cell regeneration process has come into question. The follow up to test validity will be a yearlong process, lead by RIKEN President Ryoji Noyori who was a Nobel laureate in chemistry in 2001. Noyori released an apology that the company’s publications have damaged the scientific community and said added deep regrets.
By Whitney Hudson