Book closes on stem cell saga

Michael Cook
December 20, 2014
Reproduced with Permission

Yet another stem cell dream has been shattered for ever. At a news conference yesterday, officials at Japan's prestigious RIKEN Institute announced that attempts to replicate STAP cells, or stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency cells, are over.

When Nature published a paper by 31-year-old researcher Haruko Obokata in January, the scientific world was electrified. Using her method it was going to be possible to create pluripotent stem cells easily and quickly. Or so it seemed.

Very quickly her results began to unravel. Other scientists failed to replicate her astonishing claims and found that some of her illustrations and data were misleading or even fraudulent. By April her employer had accused her of misconduct. By July the papers had been retracted. In August one of her co-authors committed suicide.

RIKEN gave Dr Obokata three months to replicate her own results. She has failed. "I'm just totally shattered and very perplexed by the results," she said . She has submitted her resignation.

Somewhat ironically, two days before, Nature - which had published Obokata's article despite serious reservations on the part of anonymous reviewers -- ran an editorial about media hype .