A Japanese government-funded laboratory said it is considering retracting scientific reports acclaimed as a major breakthrough in stem cell research as doubts surface over its credibility.
The paper, written by a group led by Haruko Obokata at Riken’s Center for Development Biology, drew global attention for its groundbreaking discovery of turning ordinary cells from mice into stem cells, which can transform into any other type of tissue.
Published in the prestigious journal Nature in January, the study was hailed as a breakthrough in regenerative medicine using stem cells, such as restoring sight to the blind and repairing the damage caused by a heart attack.
Stem cells no longer needed to be harvested from embryos or made by complicated and costly genetic tinkering. Instead, shocking skin cells with acid could drive them back into a stem cell state, the paper said.
But questions were raised after irregularities were found among imagery and wording in the report and other research groups claimed to have failed to reproduce same results.
Riken said it had been investigating allegations by experts and may retract the paper because of credibility and ethics issues.
“Though it’s still in the middle of the inquiry, we’re looking into the matter eyeing the possible retraction of the paper published in the journal Nature in terms of credibility of the paper and research ethics,” said Riken spokesman Satoru Kagaya.
Teruhiko Wakayama, a professor at University of Yamanashi and co-author of the two reports, said that he believed his part of the research was appropriate but wanted a third party to run detailed analysis on the stem cells produced.
Wakayama said he had called on his co-authors at Riken to withdraw the articles.
“When conducting the experiment, I believed it was absolutely right,” Wakayama told Reuters.
“But now that many mistakes have emerged, I think it is best to withdraw the research paper once and, using correct data and correct pictures, to prove once again the paper is right.”
Obokata is continuing the “stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency” or STAP research at the lab in Kobe. She has not issued a public comment about the controversy.
The research paper will be retracted if consensus is reached by all the authors, Riken said.
By Maesie Bertumen
Image: UC Irvine/Flickr