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No sign of STAP cells so far in validation experiments

1 September 2014
Appeared in BioNews 769

Efforts to replicate the STAP cell findings have not been successful so far, the RIKEN Institute has reported.

Dr Hitoshi Niwa, who leads a team that has been trying to verify the stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency or STAP phenomenon since April, said: 'We're still midway, but there's a possibility that STAP cells don't exist'. Dr Niwa is a co-author in the STAP studies and a principal investigator at the RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology in Kobe.

The research, originally published in Nature in January this year, claimed that a simple acid bath is able to trigger conversion of a type of blood cells into pluripotent stem cells that can develop into any cell type in mice. The work attracted worldwide attention and was considered a breakthrough in regenerative medicine, but quickly faced criticism due to a number of errors.

A RIKEN investigating committee found lead author Dr Haruko Obokata guilty of research misconduct, but cleared other co-authors. Eventually, the articles were retracted at the beginning of July.

For the verification experiments, the team at RIKEN have been following the procedure to create STAP cells as detailed in the original articles, using 'acid baths' of spleen mouse cells. However, no activity from genes signifying that stem cells have been created has been detected. The attempts will continue and other conditions, such as use of other type of mice, organs and chemical stresses, will be tested. Dr Obokata has also been given the chance of replicating her work within RIKEN, but in a separate effort to Dr Niwa's team.

However, the lack of validity so far comes as another blow to the STAP saga. Dr Yoshiki Sasai, who was the deputy director of the RIKEN Center for Development Biology and also a co-author of the STAP studies, committed suicide at the beginning of August.

The work is expected to be completed by March 2015, and the results of both investigations will be collated in a report assessing the fidelity of the original STAP publications. The latest interim report does not include information about the progress of Dr Obokata's work.

RIKEN has addressed the negative publicity of STAP research and its consequences by announcing its plan to downsize the Center for Developmental Biology, renaming it and re-launching it in November 2014 under new management. It has since reported that the reform plan would be carried out 'not for the sake of RIKEN, but for the sake of the society as a whole'.

Efforts to replicate STAP cells fall flat
Japan Times |  28 August 2014
In Japan, official effort to replicate STAP stem cells comes up empty
ScienceInsider |  27 August 2014
Riken: No confirmation of STAP cells, but verification tests will continue
Asahi Shimbun |  27 August 2014
9 November 2015 - by Dr Nicoletta Charolidi 
In the aftermath of the STAP stem-cell controversy, Waseda University has revoked the doctorate degree of the stem-cell scientist Haruko Obokata...
28 September 2015 - by Rebecca Carr 
Researchers investigating the purported creation of 'STAP' cells have confirmed that the pluripotent cells were in fact derived from embryonic stem (ES) cells...
20 April 2015 - by Sophie McLachlan 
A new type of stem cell has been discovered that has the ability to transform into a larger number of cell types than both human embryonic and induced pluripotent stem cells...
15 December 2014 - by Siobhan Chan 
A new type of stem cell has been developed in the lab, in research described as 'groundbreaking'...
15 September 2014 - by Rhys Baker 
Human pluripotent stem cells have been 'reset' to resemble embryonic stem cells at the earliest developmental state yet achieved...
11 August 2014 - by Antony Starza-Allen 
A leading Japanese scientist who was embroiled in the STAP cell controversy has been found dead in an apparent suicide....
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....
16 June 2014 - by Dr Greg Ball 
The controversy surrounding the creation of so-called STAP cells continues with a report recommending the closure of the RIKEN Centre for Developmental Biology, the institute where the research was carried out...
9 June 2014 - by Dr Rachael Panizzo 
The lead author of a controversial study describing a new type of stem cell - stimulus-triggered acquisition pluripotency (STAP) cells - has agreed to retract two research papers published in the journal Nature in January 2014...
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