Originally published January 14 2015
Yet another stem cell scientist discredited as research claims unravel
by Ethan A. Huff, staff writer
(NaturalNews) A Japanese stem cell scientist whose most recent work in the field was believed to be a major game-changer has officially resigned from her post following the discovery that she fabricated her research findings.
Dr. Haruko Obokata claimed to have come up with a method of creating customized stem cells using cells from newborn mice. By dipping the cells in an acid bath, she claimed in two published papers, stem cells could be created without the need for genetic engineering.
But all of this turned out to be false, and her two papers, which were published in the peer-reviewed journal Nature, were eventually retracted. It is the latest in a long line of stem cell scandals that seem to plague this controversial research field.
According to Vox, Dr. Obokata had been working for Japan-based Riken Research when she first published her research findings back in January 2014. At the time, the alleged discovery generated significant buzz within the stem cell industry, transforming a concept that had seemed impossible into one that was both viable and practical.
But everything quickly fell to pieces once the scientific community began to weigh in on the technology, which had been dubbed STAP (stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency). Reviewers from the publication review site PubPeer took notice of several major flaws in Dr. Obokata's papers, and efforts to replicate her findings proved fruitless.
This prompted Riken to initiate its own investigation into Dr. Obokata's work, revealing that she had essentially fabricated the STAP concept. The group found her guilty of misconduct back in the spring, and by summertime the two Nature papers were pulled.
Prior to this, Riken had given Dr. Obokata the opportunity to replicate her findings in a special laboratory that was continuously monitored by scientists and surveillance cameras. But according to The New York Times (NYT), she ultimately failed at this, proving her guilt.
"We have conducted verification experiments but can't repeat the STAP phenomenon," stated Shinichi Aizawa from the school, as quoted by BBC News. "As a result, we will terminate the verification experiments."
In a statement, Dr. Obokata blamed "inexperience" for her failure to replicate the original findings. She told the media that she worked hard for over three months to show "significant results," but that she is now "exhausted" and "extremely puzzled."
"I can't even find the words for an apology," she stated before the media.
Social media comments section helped uncover stem cell fraud Despite undergoing rigorous peer review, many published papers have been retracted over the years for outright fraud or simple failure to be replicated. This is common, as reviewers aren't tasked with the responsibility of verifying that results are absolutely correct, but rather with making sure that experiments were properly designed and that the data supports the paper's conclusions.
It many cases, it can take years for a bad paper to be identified and finally retracted. But in this case, Dr. Obokata's papers were caught rather quickly thanks to PubPeer's social media-based review process. According to Vox, the comments section feature of the site facilitated the rapid identification of problems in the two papers, problems that probably would have otherwise gone unnoticed for years.
"Without social media, the STAP papers would in all likelihood remain unretracted through 2015," wrote biologist Paul Knoepfler on his stem cell blog.
"Millions of dollars in scarce research funds would have been wasted along with potential damage to many young scientists' careers who might have been directed to work on STAP in labs around the world potentially for years."
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