The latest scandal doing the rounds of the scientific world involves stem cells. A claim that the exposure of ordinary cells to stress gave rise to stem cells has been invested by RIKEN, a Japanese research institution. The investigation was headed by a committee made up of seven members from outside the institution to investigate the claim originating from within and, in all probability, the said stem cells were originally sourced from embryonic stem cells. The matter is contamination is also under investigation.
Two teams, one of them headed by Haruko Obokata, formerly belonging to the RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology in Kobe, submitted papers that described a novel method of stimulus triggered acquisition of pluripotency or STAP and the papers were also published in Nature magazine that subsequently retracted the publication. The claim was that this was a shortcut to producing stem cells rather than harvesting genes or following the transplantation route. Researchers behind the paper claimed that inducing stress in normal cells by bathing them in acid resulted in the creation of stem cells. The investigating team constituted by RIKEN found that the STAP results are misleading in that DNA sample and lab records showed signs of embryonic cell lines in the original lab samples. What the investigation is yet to find out is whether the contamination was intentional or whether it occurred accidentally. As such they could not specifically conclude that there was misconduct in the research but they did find that Obokota may have fabricated data included in the STAP publications.
The committee released its report on 26th December and it further hammers the nail in the coffin of claims based on STAP papers published in January 2014 issue of Nature. The reports came under scrutiny when other researchers could not duplicate results and there were suspicions that the results in the papers were fabricated. Another team from RIKEN also found Obokata guilty of scientific misconduct in March 2014. The investigations had serious repercussions in that following retraction of the STAP papers in July a co-author Yosiki Sasai committed suicide in August and Obokata submitted her resignation.