Share...
14 Mar 2014 04:07

Doubts raised about STAP cell scientist's doctoral dissertation

March 12, 2014

By FUMIKAZU ASAI/ Senior Staff Writer

Doubts have emerged about the doctoral dissertation by the lead writer of articles on a new type of pluripotent cells that have come under fire due to suspected irregularities in parts of their imagery and text.

Haruko Obokata, 30, who leads a research unit at the Riken Center for Developmental Biology in Kobe, was the lead writer of a pair of articles on a new process called "stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency" (STAP) that appeared in the prestigious British scientific journal Nature in January.

Riken officials are now considering whether to withdraw the articles because of the questions that have been raised about the contents.

Questions have been raised about Obokata's doctoral dissertation in English, which she submitted to Waseda University in Tokyo in February 2011.

Waseda officials are looking into the discrepancies involved in the thesis.

"We are in the process of confirming the facts," a university official said. "An evaluation of whether the degree should be withdrawn will be made after the investigation is completed."

In the dissertation, a bibliography is strikingly similar to the list of reference materials included in an article by other scientists.

The paper was about finding stem cells with pluripotency from within animals and did not have anything to do with STAP cells.

Each chapter in the dissertation has a separate bibliography. For chapter 3, there is a bibliography of 38 references even though there are no footnotes in that chapter. The bibliography contains the authors of the material referred to, the title, the journal and the pages on which the original article appeared.

However, the bibliography in question is almost exactly the same as the first 38 items in a bibliography containing 53 reference materials that was published in 2010 in a medical journal by researchers working at a Taiwanese hospital.

There is the possibility that Obokata may have cut and pasted the earlier bibliography to her own thesis.

No footnotes are found in chapter 3 of Obokata's thesis. The absence of footnotes for the text raises questions about why the bibliography was included.

A Twitter site that looks into falsified theses and questionable research also raised questions on March 11 about parts of Obokata's dissertation that are strikingly similar to material found on the website of the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

Of the 108 pages in her thesis, the close similarities can be found over about 20 pages. The NIH website contains a section titled "What are stem cells?" and that material can be found in the dissertation. That raises the possibility that she also copied and pasted that material to her paper.

No footnote was included in the thesis detailing where the material came from.

Obokata's dissertation was accepted by a committee made up of two professors at Waseda, a professor at Tokyo Women's Medical University and Harvard University professor Charles Vacanti. Obokata studied under Vacanti, who is a co-author of the Nature articles on STAP cells.

"It is a surprise that the thesis passed the dissertation committee," said Shigeaki Yamazaki, an Aichi Shukutoku University professor who is knowledgeable about research ethics. "The responsibility of the professors and the university is very heavy. Consideration should be taken for some action, including withdrawing the degree."

By FUMIKAZU ASAI/ Senior Staff Writer
  • 1
submit to reddit
Haruko Obokata of the Riken Center for Developmental Biology announces a breakthrough in research on STAP cells on Jan. 28. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

Haruko Obokata of the Riken Center for Developmental Biology announces a breakthrough in research on STAP cells on Jan. 28. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

Toggle
  • Haruko Obokata of the Riken Center for Developmental Biology announces a breakthrough in research on STAP cells on Jan. 28. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

More AJW