The Japanese research centre responsible for two stem cell
experiments published in January (see BioNews 740) has admitted that it may have to retract the
papers, as the investigation into research misconduct in relation to the two
results, which were published in the journal Nature, were enthusiastically
received by experts and the media, with the Independent describing the new technique as a 'miracle
cure'. However, numerous allegations were raised on online forums and
science blogs regarding the accuracy of the findings, causing the RIKEN Centre for Developmental
Biology, to launch an investigation.
'It is extremely regrettable that significant discrepancies have been
found to have been generated in the process of preparing the Nature articles
for publication', said Professor Ryoji
Noyori, president of RIKEN. 'It may become necessary to demand the
withdrawal of the articles'.
Most of the paper's authors are affiliated with either the RIKEN
Centre or Harvard Medical School in the
USA. In the experiments blood cells from newborn mice were subjected to
mild acid or physical pressure, with the surprising result that these cells had
the potential to form stem cells within just half an hour.
report published by RIKEN's investigating committee concluded that
'there had been inappropriate handling of data […] but the circumstances were
not judged to constitute research misconduct' in relation to two specific
points. The committee will deliberate on a further four points before a final
conclusion is reached.
The investigation is focusing on claims that various images and figures
in the report were either irrelevant, or inappropriately modified to present
the data more favourably.
Additionally, the committee are considering allegations that a part of
the 'methods' section was plagiarised from another paper, and that the
description of the procedure given does not accurately describe the procedure
used to generate stem cells.
Teruhiko Wakayama, one of the researchers involved with the
experiments, has also expressed his wish for the papers to be retracted. 'When
conducting the experiment, I believed it was absolutely right', he said,
speaking to Japanese TV (as reported by BBC News). 'But now that many mistakes
have emerged, I think it is best to withdraw the research paper'.
'I continue to feel that the findings presented in these papers are too
significant to disregard based on relatively minor errors or external
pressures', he said. 'In the absence of compelling evidence that the data
presented is incorrect, I do not believe that the manuscripts should be
The RIKEN committee has not yet said when its final report will