Lawrence LeBlond for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
Less than three months after a rising Japanese scientist made claims of a significant stem cell breakthrough, new evidence has come forward that confirms the findings of the groundbreaking study were falsified.
Haruko Obokata, the lead author of a study published in the journal Nature in January, claimed that stem cells could be created by dipping blood cells into acid, potentially leading to hope in growing Stap (stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency) cell tissue to treat illnesses such as diabetes and Parkinson’s disease. But scientists at the Riken Centre for Development Biology in Kobe, Japan, the same center where Obokata conducted her research, is now saying the researcher’s claims were falsified.
The latest news comes after criticism surrounded the research last month, after researchers from around the world could not replicate the team’s findings using the same approach. The growing body of criticism led some on the research team to consider retracting their paper, which in turn led to further investigations from investigators within the Riken Centre.
Despite the growing controversy, Charles Vacanti, a tissue engineer at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hopsital in Boston, a coauthor of the study, said at the time that he would stick by the results.
“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,” Vacanti told the Wall Street Journal in March.
But as of now, it has come to light that nearly all claims made by Obokata were manipulated and she had falsified images of DNA fragments used in her research, according to the Riken Centre investigative team.
“The manipulation was used to improve the appearance of the results,” Shunsuke Ishii, the head of the committee set up to investigate allegations that the research was fraudulent, told The Associated Press.
When the news broke in January that Obokata, who had just received her PhD three years earlier, had appeared to create a new method of turning blood cells into stem cells easily, she became an instant hero, with many calling it the third most significant breakthrough in stem cell research, according to a report in The Washington Post.
Obokata said in a news conference at the time that her research was an emotional roller coaster ride.
“There were many days when I wanted to give up on my research and cried all night long,” she said. “But I encouraged myself to hold on just for one more day.”
Even as the investigation has found significant discrepancies in her study, Obokata said in a statement to the AFP that she denies the allegations and “will file a complaint against Riken as it’s absolutely impossible for me to accept this.”
The Riken Centre investigators maintained they will punish those who are involved in this bogus study.
“Those involved will be strictly dealt with as per the provisions of RIKEN’s internal regulations, and RIKEN will deliberate and implement measures to ensure that this does not happen again,” the investigators said in a statement.
The investigative team noted that three coauthors of the paper had not falsified the data but were still “gravely responsible” for failing to verify the findings of the study.
The investigative panel would not comment on whether Stap cells actually exist. Ishii noted that determining the existence of Stap cells was not part of the investigators’ mission.