Stem Cell Claims by Japanese Researcher Prompt Investigations

TOKYO—The case of Japanese researcher Hisashi Moriguchi is growing stranger by the day. Last week, Moriguchi's claim, in a paper scheduled to be presented at a meeting in New York, that he had performed a breakthrough stem cell transplant on cardiac patients began to unravel when Harvard University and the University of Tokyo denied any knowledge of the purported experiment.

But the story was far from over. Several of the co-authors listed by Moriguchi on a draft paper given to Japanese reporters describing the work denied any involvement; and a co-author of a previously published Moriguchi paper said his name was included without his knowledge. In its Saturday morning edition, Yomiuri Shimbun, which had trumpeted the stem cell experiment on its front page 2 days earlier, apologized to its readers, saying it had determined the stories were false. Peppered with questions from Japanese reporters at a press conference in New York, where he had been attending a conference, Moriguchi admitted to lying. Still, he insisted the procedure had been carried out on one patient in mid-2011 at a hospital in Boston, but he refused to identify the hospital or his collaborators.

Moriguchi continues to stick to that story. Today in Tokyo, he went straight to the University of Tokyo, known locally as Todai, from Narita International Airport and met the hospital's investigating team. Nobuhito Saito, a neurosurgeon who is the hospital's vice director for education and research, told a packed news conference Monday evening Tokyo time that they didn't want to rush to judgment until all the facts were in. Saito said Moriguchi insisted he had developed a new method for creating induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells, and the procedure had, in fact, been carried out. Saito said that because, among other things, Moriguchi could not name his collaborators, there were doubts about whether a surgery took place and other questions about his explanations of events.

Moriguchi graduated from Tokyo Medical and Dental University (TMDU) with an undergraduate degree in nursing and then in 1995 completed a master's in health promotion under Chifumi Sato, who would later be his most frequent co-author, including on the abstract Sato believes was submitted for the New York conference. Moriguchi then worked for several years at a health policy think tank. In 1999, he moved to Todai's Research Center for Advanced Science and Technology (RCAST).

Moriguchi worked at RCAST until March 2010 when he moved to the Todai hospital. His work at RCAST involved medical treatment policy, economics, and statistics, according to a Todai spokeswoman. "He did no experimental work at all," she added.

At the hospital, he worked on developing cryopreservation techniques under Makoto Mihara, an associate professor in the Department of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery. Yet on several recent papers Moriguchi gave his affiliation as "Division of iPS Cell Research and Application, Department of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, School of Medicine, The University of Tokyo." A hospital spokesperson told Science by phone that officially there is no such division; it seems to be a name Moriguchi himself made up for his own lab. At the Saturday press conference, Moriguchi said his research career was probably over. But for the institutions suddenly embarrassed by this incident, the painstaking work of figuring out what went wrong is just beginning. Todai and TMDU quickly set up investigating committees. Ikuo Morita, a TMDU trustee who oversees research, said the school intends to check the validity of all of Moriguchi's papers with a connection to TMDU.

Posted in Asia, Health