STAP: the RIKEN enquiry committee accuses Professor Obokata of fraud

Publié le : 4 April 2014

 This week, during a press conference, the Scientific Committee heading the enquiry into the RIKEN Institute (Kobe, Japan) announced the results of its final report investigating STAP cells (Gènéthique press review on March, 24th, 2014). It denounced a case of falsifying data and a lack of "ethical reasoning" on the part of Professor Obakata. However, the Institute has yet to comment on actual facts despite the findings that have come to light, and is giving itself a year to "attempt to review the method".

Young Japanese female scientist, Haruko Obakata, aged 30, in charge of a research unit at the RIKEN Institute, published a thesis in the Nature journal, in January 2014, highlighting a potentially revolutionary method of creating pluripotent cells (Gènéthique press review on January 27th, 2014). One of the co-authors, Teruhiko Wakayama, has since contested the results and has asked for the withdrawal of this publication on the grounds that results were falsified and the experience described was actually non-reproducible. Haruko Obokata is said to be "surprised and angry", and refutes claims of intentional manipulation, of which she is accused. She intends to launch an appeal against the judgement.

The Enquiry Committee concluded that a professional error had been committed after finding evidence of falsified data and images submitted in support of the thesis. Professor Obokata therefore faces sanctions. The President of the RIKEN Institute commented as follows: "If the irregularities highlighted by the Enquiry Commission are confirmed following any appeal procedures, I will recommend that the publication be withdrawn. Firm but fair sanctions will be taken on the recommendations of a disciplinary committee"

If the experiment cannot be reproduced, as is the case to date, the thesis will not be challenged overall.

Some of the data have been validated. The RIKEN Institute will give itself a year to state whether or not STAP cells actually exist.

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