Researcher behind groundbreaking Japanese stem cell discovery found guilty of scientific misconduct

Results showing stem cells can be created from skin exposed to weak acid may be retracted

Science Editor

The Japanese scientist who stunned the world earlier this year with an experiment showing that stem cells can be created from skin by simply exposing it to weak acid solution has been found guilty of scientific misconduct by her own research institute.

An investigation by the Riken Centre for Developmental Biology in Kobe into the study published in January in Nature found that there were two instances of scientific misconduct by the lead author of the study, Haruko Obokata, and that the study may have to be retracted.

The investigating committee said that Dr Obokata, 30, spliced two images together as if they were one and reused data from her doctoral dissertation in the Nature study, which purported to show how relatively easy it is to produce stem cells from skin cells using weak acid solution – a finding that had dramatic implications for regenerative medicine.

“Actions like this completely destroy data credibility. There is no doubt that she was fully aware of this danger. We’ve therefore concluded this was an act of research misconduct involving fabrication,” said Shunsuke Ishii, head of the investigating committee.

A statement from the Riken said that other scientists involved in the study may also be disciplined and that a full retraction of the scientific paper on stimulus-triggered activation of pluripotency (Stap) is likely to be issued following the results of any appeal by Dr Obokata.

“Those who were not found to have been involved in research misconduct still bear a heavy responsibility for the administrative negligence which allowed the research misconduct to occur,” Riken said.

The study, which involved several scientists from a number of research centres in Japan and the United States, turned Dr Obokata into a national celebrity in Japan, but other stem cell researchers failed to replicate her findings and doubts soon began to emerge over the published results.

Riken said that it has established its own internal group of scientists led by a special adviser to see if they can repeat the experiments, but that it will take about a year to reach any conclusion. Other researchers will also be encouraged to replicate the study.

“We will establish a framework so that the Stap cell phenomenon can be tested scientifically by third parties. Riken researchers will attempt to replicate the findings very strictly, and will offer their active cooperation to outside researchers attempt to reproduce them,” said Riken’s president, Ryoji Noyori, a Nobel laureate.

“I would like to take this opportunity to apologize once again for the fact that papers authored by researchers at Riken have harmed the public’s trust in the scientific community,” Professor Noyori said.

Dr Obokata insisted in a statement that she stands by her work and said that she intends to file a complaint against the institute for suggesting she deliberately misled her colleagues and other scientists.

“I am filled with shock and indication. If things stay as they are, misunderstanding could arise that the discovery of Stap cells itself is forgery. That would be unacceptable,” Dr Obakata said.

Professor Charles Vacanti of Brigham and Woman’s Hospital in Boston, a co-author of the research, said that it is too early for the work to be retracted.

“I firmly believe that the most appropriate course of action at this time is to clarify, in a very specific manner, all of the subtleties associated with the creation of Stapcells by posting specific details of our most effective protocol on our laboratory web site,” Professor Vacanti said.

“This action should enable other investigators to replicate our findings, which is what I believe to be the accepted scientific process. I believe, over time, the science will speak for itself,” he said.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksA celebration of British elections
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West, performing in New York last week, has been the subject of controversy as rock's traditional headline slot at Glastonbury is lost once again
Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
Life and Style
Google celebrates Bartolomeo Cristofori's 360th birthday
techGoogle Doodle to the rescue
Life and Style
Drinking - often heavily - is a running theme throughout HBO's Game of Thrones adaptation
food + drink
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living