‘Milestone’ Easy-To-Make Stem Cells Never Existed, Investigation Suggests

Maybe it’s not so easy to create stem cells after all.
Haruko Obokata

The stem cells that scientists announced they’d created in January may never have existed, Nature News reports.

The stem cell discovery, at first hailed as a milestone, has come under fire over the past few months. First, independent research teams that tried to reproduce the stem cells weren’t able to. Then, some scientists noticed that parts of the paper describing the new stem-cell-creating technique were plagiarized.

RIKEN, a Tokyo-based research institution that employs many of the scientists who were involved in the questioned discovery, launched an investigation with two goals. One was to determine whether the stem cell paper’s lead author, a young RIKEN scientist named Haruko Obokata, had cheated in writing the paper. That branch of the investigation concluded in April and found she did cheat. The second goal was more interesting: to determine whether the stem cells the team said it made were real. Genetic tests conducted by an anonymous, independent lab suggest they were not, Nature News reports.

We thought this was an apt time for the blog Retraction Watch to publish one of its latest stories. The story is about what it was like to work in a stem cell lab that’s now undergoing an investigation for allegations of cheating.

The lab, based at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, has nothing to do with the stem cell research above. Nor can we know whether the atmosphere in the Brigham and Women’s Hospital lab, led by physician Piero Anversa, is anything like the atmosphere in the RIKEN lab in which Obokata and her colleagues worked. There are surely many ways for a lab to go wrong. An anonymous former research fellow describes how things were in the Anversa lab:

[Nature News, Retraction Watch]