Science journal retracts paper on stem cell discovery

Karen Weintraub, Special for USA TODAY 3:14 p.m. EDT July 2, 2014

Riken researcher Haruko Obokata announces Jan. 28, 2014, that she discovered a simple way to turn animal cells back to a youthful, neutral state, a feat hailed as a "game-changer" in the quest to grow transplant tissue in the lab. The journal Nature announced it is retracting the research paper.(Photo: Jiji Press, AFP/Getty Images)

The scientific journal Nature Wednesday retracted two stem cell papers that received national attention when they were published in January.

The paper by researchers from Harvard University and Japan's RIKEN Institute described a new method of producing versatile stem cells without altering their DNA a process that promised to make it easier to use stem cells in research and treatment.

Stem cell researchers immediately raised questions about these new cells, called STAP cells, and have tried unsuccessfully for months to reproduce the process of making the cells, as described by the papers.

One author, Teruhiko Wakayama from RIKEN, has been calling since March for a retraction in light of the concerns. The first author, Haruko Obokata, a junior scientist at RIKEN, was accused by her institution in April of scientific misconduct after errors were found in the images, and some of the descriptions in the paper were found to be plagiarized.

Harvard stem cell and tissue engineering biologist Charles Vacanti, who helped lead the research and was the last of the authors to call for a retraction, said Wednesday that he still believes in the existence of STAP cells but can no longer stand behind the papers.

"Although there has been no information that cast doubt on the existence of the stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency (STAP) cell phenomenon itself, I am concerned that the multiple errors that have been identified impair the credibility of the manuscript as a whole," he said in a prepared statement.

Stem cells have long been seen as the future of medical care, offering the possibility of mending damaged hearts, replacing brain cells lost to Alzheimer's or repairing paralyzed spinal cords. But that potential has been limited first by the controversial need to destroy embryos for research, then by the cumbersome and expensive techniques used to make stem cells without embryos.

In the January papers in Nature, researchers showed they could turn mature cells into STAP cells cheaply and easily, essentially by bathing skin or other cells in acid..

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Science journal retracts paper on stem cell discovery

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