11 Mar 2014 15:45
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Japan gov't urges laboratory to probe STAP cell paper


The government said Tuesday it has urged a state-affiliated laboratory to thoroughly investigate its research paper on a trailblazing method to create stem cells that drew global attention, after one of the co-authors said it should be withdrawn until the creditability of its data is confirmed.

"We've been informed that the Riken institute has been investigating from a technical perspective while gathering experts from both within and outside the country," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at a press conference.

The top government spokesman suggested the institute hold a press conference to explain its probe into the paper on "stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency," or STAP.

In Tuesday's statement, Riken said it is considering retracting the paper in light of the questioning of its reliability and research ethics.

The laboratory also said it will provide an interim report on its investigation at a press briefing Friday.

Questions have been raised about images and wording used in the paper, written by a group led by Haruko Obokata at Riken's Center for Developmental Biology.

On Tuesday, the Molecular Biology Society of Japan asked Riken to immediately publish raw data for the paper and take appropriate measures including the withdrawal, revision and resubmission of the paper, noting the reported problems go beyond simple mistakes.

Hakubun Shimomura, minister of education, culture, sports, science and technology, told reporters he "hopes the paper will be resubmitted after going through an objective probe."

University of Yamanashi professor Teruhiko Wakayama, one of the co-authors of the paper, told reporters Monday, "It's better to retract it once and submit it again after making sure that the data are all correct and won't be criticized by anyone."

The paper was published in two installments by a total of 14 people in the British scientific journal Nature in late January.

Charles Vacanti of Harvard Medical School, who was among the 14, has opposed Wakayama's proposal for retracting the paper.

"Some mistakes were made, but they don't affect the conclusions," the tissue engineer was quoted Monday by The Wall Street Journal as saying in an interview published in its online edition. "Based on the information I have, I see no reason why these papers should be retracted."

The STAP method is purported to be a way to reprogram cells to acquire versatile functions by exposing them to stress such as acid baths. It is touted as being free of ethical issues linked with embryonic stem cells and for doing without genetic intervention needed in the so-called "iPS" reprogramming procedure.

Researchers are pinning hopes on STAP and other types of cells that have the ability to transform into any type of cell in the body as they could be used to repair organs and tissues that have been damaged or lost due to injury or disease.

"We believe the crux of the paper remains unwavering but we are taking the proposal seriously," Riken said Monday of Wakayama's call for withdrawal.

The research paper will be retracted if a consensus is reached by all the authors.

Riken and Nature are investigating alleged irregularities in the images and other problems with the paper, mentioned on the Internet, such as anomalous lines in an image of DNA fragments and a passage nearly identical to a section in another paper, used without citation.

Last week, Riken released details of how to generate STAP cells in response to growing complaints that the results of the technique described in the January paper cannot be replicated.