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Riken Panel Reports on Stem Cell Papers

A Riken panel investigating the recent report of a new way to reprogram cells to be stem cells has found evidence of misconduct, ScienceInsider reports.

Particularly, the committee says the two Nature papers describing the STAP technique contain instances of fabrication and falsifications. The panel, though, does not call for the retraction of the papers, though Ryoji Noyori, the president of Riken, says that if the committee's findings are upheld after appeal, then the papers should be retracted, ScienceInsider adds.

Haruko Obokata, the lead author of the studies from the Riken Center for Developmental Biology, says she will be appealing the findings.

“I am filled with feelings of indignation and surprise,” she says in a statement, according to ScienceInsider.

The STAP papers, published in Nature at the end of January, reportedly described a way to generate stem cells by exposing mouse blood cells to an acidic solution. Shortly after publications, questions began to arise regarding the technique, images, and passages included in the papers.

The report from Riken finds, for instance, that two pictures of electrophroresis gels were spliced together and that data from Obokata's doctoral thesis was reused in two images despite referring to experiments conducted under different conditions, according to ScienceInsider.

In her statement, Obokata says the changes to the first image didn't affect the results and she and her team were trying to present "an easy-to-view photo." Regarding the re-used images, she says that was due to a mix-up, and that she and her colleagues have already submitted a correction regarding that to Nature.

The report adds that many aspects of the experiments were poorly documented and, according to ScienceInsider, rather scathingly says that "Obokata's actions and sloppy data management lead us to the conclusion that she sorely lacks, not only a sense of research ethics, but also integrity and humility as a scientific researcher."

The report only found Obokata guilty of misconduct, though it notes that co-authors Teruhiko Wakayama, now at the University of Yamanashi, and Riken's Yoshiki Sasai bear some responsibility. ScienceInsider notes that the report did not mention non-Japanese researchers involved in the work.