RIKEN Makes Verdict on Two Problematic Stem Cell Papers Final

TOKYO—RIKEN has decided against reopening an investigation into two stem cell papers that concluded that the lead author, Haruko Obokata of RIKEN's Center for Developmental Biology in Kobe, engaged in research misconduct. The institute has yet to decide whether Obokata will be punished.

RIKEN launched an investigation after claims of image manipulation and plagiarism surfaced regarding a research article and a letter published online in Nature on 29 January that described a new, simple way of creating stem cells called STAP, for stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency.

An investigating committee found numerous problems with the papers and concluded in a 31 March report that two of those, both in the article, constituted research misconduct. Obokata maintains that her main finding of a new way to create stem cells is valid but admits making innocent mistakes in handling images and text in the papers. She filed a formal appeal on 8 April, asking that the investigation be reopened and the misconduct judgment reconsidered. In a 21-page report dated yesterday, the same investigating committee rebutted the points of her appeal one by one and concluded "that there is no need to re-investigate the results of the committee’s investigation issued on March 31, 2014."

In a statement released today, RIKEN President Ryoji Noyori said that the institute "has decided not to re-investigate the allegations of research misconduct." He said that Obokata has been advised to retract the one paper which was found to be affected by misconduct. Obokata's lawyer, Hideo Miki, told The Japan Times that he was “extremely displeased” with the decision.

Noyori's statement also mentions that several of the committee members are themselves facing allegations of research misconduct in relation to previous publications. "[W]e believe the committee has nevertheless carried out its investigation appropriately and have concluded that the allegations do not affect the committee’s findings concerning the STAP cell papers," Noyori said, adding that the allegations would be investigated separately.

The next step will be for a separate committee, established today, to decide on disciplinary measures against Obokata, RIKEN Executive Director Minoru Yonekura said this afternoon at a press conference. He said the committee could reach a decision within about a month. Separately, Kenneth Ka-Ho Lee, an embryologist and stem cell researcher at the Chinese University of Hong Kong who live-blogged about his futile attempts to reproduce STAP cells, today published all the details of his efforts online at F1000Research. So far no one has reported reproducing Obokata’s results.

Posted in Asia/Pacific, Biology, People & Events Stem Cell Controversy