Lead Author Agrees To Retract A Milestone Stem Cell Paper

She still stands by her work on one of the two papers that have come under fire in the past months.

Haruko Obokata

The lead author of two controversial stem cell papers has agreed to retract some of her work, Nature News reports.

The papers, published in January, claimed to have found simple ways to transform regular cells into stem cells. An easy supply of stem cells would be a boon to both stem-cell research and to any future treatments that use the cells, so both scientists and journalists were excited about the papers.

Some outside scientists soon noticed the papers had problems, however. Critics wondered if some of the data were made up, or manipulated to look better. The institute where the papers’ lead author works as a research scientist, RIKEN of Tokyo, investigated the author, Haruko Obokata. In April, a RIKEN committee found Obokata guilty of “scientific misconduct.” Another RIKEN committee will decide her punishment, Nature News reported at the time.

Now, the obvious next question is: What should happen to the papers? When scientists are found to have cheated in their research, the scientific journal that published the research will often issue retractions. Retractions flag problematic papers for scientists in the future, who might otherwise think the papers are true and honestly written. Often, all or most authors have to agree to a retraction.

In March, one of the scientists who worked with Obokata, Teruhiko Wakayama of the University of Yamanashi, told Reuters he wanted to retract the papers. At the time, another prominent team member, Charles Vacanti of Harvard University, did not agree. The others didn’t issue opinions publicly.

Now, newspapers in Japan are reporting Obokata has agreed to retract one of her two papers. It’s not a clear admission of wrongdoing: The paper that RIKEN found Obokata cheated on is not the one she reportedly agreed to retract, Nature News reports.

Nature News