Co-author of stem-cell study 'loses faith' in paper

After claiming to have developed a novel technique for coaxing the growth of stem cells in an acid bath, Japanese researchers have come under scrutiny for apparent irregularities. In the latest twist, one of the paper's coauthors has admitted that the study should be retracted.

Soon after the paper was published, it was criticized for irregularities and apparent duplicated images. More importantly, nobody could replicate the results claimed by the team, one led by Haruko Obokata of the RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology in Kobe, Japan. But now, as Nature News reports, two more serious problems have emerged.

First, the paper was found to contain two images that appear to have been duplicated from Obokata's doctoral dissertation. What's more, the study described experiments with cells in an embryonic state, but the cells reported in the paper were said to be derived from an entirely different process from a different experiment. Ouch.

Second, there's the recent admission from Teruhiko Wakayama, a cloning expert at Yamanashi University and a corresponding author on one of the papers. From Nature News:

Interviewed by NHK news, Wakayama said: "I have lost faith in the paper. Overall there are now just too many uncertainties about it. I think we have to wait for some confirmation." Wakayama calls for an investigation of all the laboratory notebooks and data. He continues: "To check the legitimacy of the paper, we should retract it, prepare proper data and images, and then use those to demonstrate, with confidence, that the paper is correct." Wakayama reportedly contacted all of the authors requesting that they agree to retract the paper. RIKEN says it is still investigating the case.

This is awful, and not just because of potential impropriety or sloppiness. As Wakayama notes, the paper could actually be correct. Here's to hoping that this gets sorted out soon.

Image: RIKEN via BBC.