Stem-cell transplant claims debunked

Hisashi Moriguchi presented his work at the New York Stem Cell Foundation meeting this week.

AP/Press Association

From the beginning, it seemed too good to be true. Days after Kyoto University biologist Shinya Yamanaka won a Nobel prize for his 2006 discovery of induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells (see ‘Cell rewind wins medicine Nobel’), Hisashi Moriguchi a visiting researcher at the University of Tokyo claimed to have modified that technology to treat a person with terminal heart failure. Eight months after surgical treatment in February, said a front-page splash in the Japanese newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun yesterday, the patient was healthy.

But after being alerted to the story by Nature, Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), where Moriguchi claimed to have done the work, denied that the procedure had taken place. No clinical trials related to Dr Moriguchi’s work have been approved by institutional review boards at either Harvard University or MGH, wrote David Cameron, a spokesman for Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts. The work he is reporting was not done at MGH, says Ryan Donovan, a public-affairs official at MGH, also in Boston.

A video clip posted online by the Nippon News Network and subsequently removed showed Moriguchi presenting his research at the New York Stem Cell Foundation meeting this week.

If true, Moriguchis feat would have catapulted iPS cells into use in a wide range of clinical situations, years ahead of most specialists’ predictions. I hope this therapy is realized in Japan as soon as possible, the head of a Tokyo-based organization devoted to helping children with heart problems told Yomiuri Shimbun.

But there were reasons to be suspicious. Moriguchi said he had invented a method to reprogram cells using just two chemicals: microRNA-145 inhibitor and TGF- ligand1. But Hiromitsu Nakauchi, a stem-cell researcher at the University of Tokyo, says that he has never heard of success with that method. He adds that he had also never heard of Moriguchi before this week.

Moriguchi also said that the cells could be differentiated into cardiac cells using a ‘supercooling’ method that he had invented. Thats another weird thing, says Nakauchi.

The article in which Moriguchi presented his two-chemical method, published in a book1 describing advances in stem-cell research, includes paragraphs copied almost verbatim from other papers. The section headed 2.3 Western blotting, for example, is identical to a passage from a 2007 paper by Yamanaka2. Section 2.1.1, in which Moriguchi describes human liver biopsies, matches the number of patients and timing of specimen extractions described in an earlier article3, although the name of the institution has been changed.

When contacted by Nature, Moriguchi stood by his publication. We are all doing similar things so it makes sense that wed use similar words, he says. He did admit to using other papers as reference.

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Stem-cell transplant claims debunked