Reliability of stem cell 'breakthrough' questioned

Behind the Headlines

Monday March 17 2014

The results could not be replicated by other researchers

The stem cell findings could not be replicated by other researchers

"Stem cell 'breakthrough data inappropriately handled'," BBC News reports.

In January, scientists in Japan described how they used acid baths to simply and cheaply generate stem cells.

But the BBC has reported that this widely heralded breakthrough for stem cell science may not be all it seems.

The news follows the publication of a report into an investigation of the researchers and their work by their own academic institution, RIKEN.

The interim RIKEN report says that it appears that some of the images used in the article which was published in the peer-reviewed journal, Nature – were actually taken from another piece of research.

There have also been allegations that some of the methodology provided in the study was "copied" from another study.

Possibly of greatest concern is that other research teams have used the techniques described in the original study (using acid baths to generate stem cells), but have failed to replicate the results as described. Analysis by independent researchers has suggested that the original research is "not reproducible".

BBC News quotes Professor Kenneth Ka-Ho Lee, of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, as saying: "The ease and simplicity of their method for generating STAP cells [the name given to stem cells produced by this method] from various stressors and cell types have left the readers in doubt.

"We have tried our very best to generate STAP cells using their protocol, and it appears that it is not as simple and reproducible as we expected. So whether the technique really works still remains an open question."

RIKEN is continuing to investigate the research and the scientists involved.

Edited by NHS Choices. Follow Behind the Headlines on Twitter. Join the Healthy Evidence forum.

Analysis by Bazian

Edited by NHS Choices

Links to the headlines

Stem cell 'breakthrough data inappropriately handled'. BBC News, March 14 2014

Links to the science

Obokata H, Wakayama T, Sassi Y, et al. Stimulus-triggered fate conversion of somatic cells into pluripotency. Nature. Published online January 29 2014

Obokata H, Sassi Y, Niwa H, et al. Bidirectional developmental potential in reprogrammed cells with acquired pluripotency. Nature. Published online January 29 2014

Further reading

Independent review

KK-H Lee. Untitled review. ResearchGate. Published March 13 2014

Press release

RIKEN. Interim report on the investigation of the Obokata et al. articles. Published March 14 2014


RIKEN. RIKEN President's comments on the results of the investigation of STAP cell research articles in Nature (PDF, 219kb). Published March 14 2014

Behind the Headlines analysis of original study and media coverage

Behind the Headlines. Breakthrough in stem cell creation using acid bath. January 30 2014


How helpful is this page?

Average rating

Based on 2 ratings

All ratings

2  ratings
0  ratings
0  ratings
0  ratings
0  ratings

Add your rating

What is Behind the Headlines?

What is Behind the Headlines?

We give you the facts without the fiction. Professor Sir Muir Gray, founder of Behind the Headlines, explains more...

Follow us on Twitter

Join more than 160,000 who follow @NHSChoices for the latest and best health news and lifestyle advice

Superfoods: the evidence

We examine the evidence behind the health claims made about the most popular superfoods

Stem cell research in the news

Stem cells are often portrayed in the media as a miracle cure for many serious conditions and disabilities. We analyse the facts behind these stories


Find out how you inherit your physical and behavioural characteristics, plus learn about testing for genetic conditions