Saturday, April 5, 2014

Stem cell controversy in Japan

The Japanese stem cell researcher Haruko Obokata has been found guilt of misconduct in her work, according to the Guardian, the Tagesspiegel, and the Japan Times. Her work proposed a simple method of generating so-called STAP-cells in a petri dish. She published two articles in Nature on January 30, 2014 ([1], [2]).

But when researchers could not replicate the results and accusations of photo manipulation and plagiarism arose, an investigation in her lab was started. The report on the investigation determined that she was guilty of scientific misconduct, just as Chinese scientists have announced that they were able to replicate the results with a slightly different set-up. Two days later, that group announced that maybe it wasn't really a replication. Some felt that this was an April Fool's joke, the Chinese researcher insists not.

This entire issue does raise questions about how to deal with accusations of misconduct. Obokata insists that the picture manipulations had nothing to do with the results. There are many other authors listed on the Nature papers, did they convince themselves that everything was okay before publishing? Or was there a rush to cry "First!" with a revolutionary development? It remains to be seen how this story will continue.

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