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Reliability of stem cell 'breakthrough' questioned

Monday 17 March 2014

"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.

Analysis by Bazian
Edited by NHS Website

Links to the headlines

Stem cell 'breakthrough data inappropriately handled'

BBC News, 14 March 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

KK-H Lee.

Untitled review

ResearchGate. Published March 13 2014


Interim report on the investigation of the Obokata et al. articles

Published March 14 2014


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.

Breakthrough in stem cell creation using acid bath

January 30 2014