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11 Mar 2014 15:56

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Harvard set to investigate STAP cell publications

The Yomiuri Shimbun Harvard Medical School said Monday it will examine articles on stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency (STAP) cells coauthored by one of its professors.

The two articles carried on the Jan. 30 edition of the British science journal Nature were written by 14 researchers from RIKEN, the University of Yamanashi, Harvard University and Tokyo Women’s Medical University, including RIKEN research unit leader Haruko Obokata and Harvard Medical School Prof. Charles Vacanti.

Doubts have recently been raised over the credibility of the research papers, including questionable images used.

Meanwhile, Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Minister Hakubun Shimomura said at a press conference after a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday, “I hope [the researchers] will resubmit the articles.”

David Cameron, director of Science Communications at Harvard Medical School, told The Yomiuri Shimbun in an e-mail: “We are fully committed to upholding the highest standards of ethics and to rigorously maintaining the integrity of our research. Any concerns brought to our attention are thoroughly reviewed in accordance with institutional policies and applicable regulations.”

According to Nature, any articles can be retracted in principle only after all coauthors give their consent. However, the journal may accept the request for the retraction of an article based on its own judgment, even if some coauthors disagree with the decision. A Nature official said the journal is currently investigating the STAP cell articles.

“Some mistakes were made, but they don’t affect the conclusions,” said Vacanti, a tissue engineer at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, on the online version of The Wall Street Journal on Monday. “Based on the information I have, I see no reason why these papers should be retracted.”

An official from the Kobe-based RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology added on Tuesday, “We’re discussing the matter, including the possibility of withdrawing the articles.”

“The basis of the articles [that STAP cells were created] is unshakable,” a RIKEN official said.

“From the viewpoint of the articles’ credibility and research ethics, we are discussing the issue with an eye toward their retraction,” RIKEN said in a statement released on Tuesday afternoon. “It will take some time before we compile a final report on the matter.”

RIKEN plans to formally announce the details of its investigation on Friday.