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Stem cell scientist's appeal against misconduct verdict rejected

12 May 2014
Appeared in BioNews 753

Japan's RIKEN Center has announced that an appeal by stem cell scientist, Dr Haruko Obokata, found guilty of research misconduct in relation to her claims of converting blood cells to stem cells using an 'acid bath', has been rejected.

Allegations of data fabrication and plagiarism surfaced around two research papers that reported a simple way of creating stem cells using a technique the researchers called STAP (stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency) (reported in BioNews 740).

A misconduct panel found that Dr Obokata, who was the lead author of the papers, had reused an image from her thesis and had produced an image of DNA analysis spliced together from two separate pictures (BioNews 740).

Dr Obokata publicly apologised last month (BioNews 740), claiming the errors were due to carelessness.  However, she defended her research findings and refused to retract her papers, calling for a reinvestigation. RIKEN has declined to re-open the investigation, however.

President of RIKEN, Ryoji Noyori, said in a statement: 'RIKEN has decided not to re-investigate the allegations of research misconduct. The appellant has been notified of this decision, and has been advised to retract the one paper which was found to have instances of research misconduct'.

Dr Obokata is unable to file any further formal appeals and RIKEN will now decide what course of action to take against her and the other researchers involved. Penalties can vary from pay cuts, suspension from work and forced resignation.

Dr Shinichi Aizawa, a special advisor to RIKEN, is currently leading a group to begin efforts into verifying the results of the STAP experiments. To date no one has been able to reproduce the same results and outcomes that were supposedly achieved by Dr Obokata.

RIKEN has instructed its primary scientists to review all of their papers, reports Nature News, which says that four members of the misconduct panel are now themselves facing allegations of irregularities in their published work.

Accusations pile up amid Japan’s stem-cell controversy
Nature News |  8 May 2014
Results of Deliberation on STAP Cell Research Paper Appeal
Riken Centre for Developmental Biology (press release) |  8 May 2014
RIKEN Makes Verdict on Two Problematic Stem Cell Papers Final
Science Insider |  8 May 2014
Riken stands behind STAP paper probe
The Japan Times |  8 May 2014
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In the aftermath of the STAP stem-cell controversy, Waseda University has revoked the doctorate degree of the stem-cell scientist Haruko Obokata...
7 July 2014 - by Antony Starza-Allen 
Nature has retracted two papers published in January on the creation of so-called 'STAP' cells, after all co-authors agreed to the retractions....
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16 June 2014 - by Dr Greg Ball 
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9 June 2014 - by Dr Rachael Panizzo 
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14 April 2014 - by Dr Greg Ball 
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7 April 2014 - by Dr Greg Ball 
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17 March 2014 - by Chris Hardy 
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24 February 2014 - by Patricia Cassidy 
Research published in Nature that described a simple way to generate stem cells is now under investigation after blog posts called its findings into question...
3 February 2014 - by Dr Lanay Griessner 
Stem cells have been created from mouse blood cells using a simple and quick method described as 'remarkable' by experts...
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