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Stem Cell Scandal


In a coda to a bizarre series of events that began early this year with a tantalizing scientific discovery that eventually led to academic scandal and a suicide, researchers at the Riken Center for Developmental Biology say they have not been able to reproduce a method of creating stem cells from normal cells using an acid bath. Riken also says its CDB will be downsized, its name will be changed, and it will be re-launched in November under new management, Science reports.

Riken researchers tried to reproduce the stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency (STAP) technique for creating embryonic-like stem cells, which was reported early this year in Nature and generated international fanfare. The data supporting the method turned out to be fabricated, however, and both of the STAP papers were retracted this summer.

In early August, Yoshiki Sasai, one of the coauthors on the STAP studies and CDB deputy director, committed suicide. Even though he was found to not be at fault in the scientific misconduct, he was reportedly deeply ashamed about the problems with the paper and the media attention.

The CDB team that attempted to repeat the experiments used different types of stressors on the mouse cells in efforts to turn them into stem cells but failed. They still plan on repeating the experiments using different types of cells, and will allow researcher Haruko Obokata, who has been found guilty of scientific misconduct but still says her original results are real, another chance to replicate her findings.

The CDB had a staff of around 541 in 2013, but it will be scaled down to a staff of about 250. The tentative new name for the center is the Multicellular System Formation Research Center.