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2014年6月17日 (火)

理研改革提言 組織再構築へ力量が問われる

The Yomiuri Shimbun
RIKEN’s capability to rebuild itself being questioned after outside report
理研改革提言 組織再構築へ力量が問われる

An external reform committee of experts set up by RIKEN in connection with the controversy over articles on stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency (STAP) cells sharply criticized the institute’s distorted merit-based system, which allowed an immature researcher to act recklessly.

In a set of proposals it unveiled last week, the reform committee is even seeking the dismantlement of the RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology (CDB), where research irregularities were found.

It urged RIKEN to mete out “extremely strict punishment” to Haruko Obokata, the unit leader who led the STAP cell research, given the graveness of the irregularities she committed, and to replace top CDB officials, including Deputy Director Yoshiki Sasai, who coauthored the STAP articles.

It was a matter of course for the committee to call on Obokata and other researchers, who fundamentally damaged the credibility of Japan’s scientific research, as well as the CDB, to take responsibility for the fiasco.

What the committee particularly found problematic was the fact that the CDB leadership hired Obokata without duly confirming her career achievements as well as their failure to adequately supervise her.

The committee criticized Sasai for giving preferential treatment to Obokata based on expectations that the center would be able to win funding for STAP cell research, in which he saw much potential. Sasai is suspected to have tried to cover up irregularities committed by Obokata upon learning about them by not reporting them to the RIKEN headquarters, the committee said.

Ignoring goal of research

Such actions are tantamount to neglecting the basics of scientific research, which aims to discover truths. The committee, which was initially entrusted to consider ways to prevent the recurrence of such cases, had no choice but to propose the CDB’s disbandment and heavy punishment for those involved.

The CDB, however, is a prominent hub for regenerative medicine. It is true that the center has actively assigned important tasks to young researchers, producing tangible achievements. Many articles authored by young researchers have been published in influential scientific journals.

There are concerns that talented researchers might feel constrained in doing their jobs or seek opportunities abroad at a time when public attention is focused on research irregularities.

The CDB is currently conducting the world’s first clinical research using induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells. Within this year, it plans to transplant cornea cells produced from iPS cells to a patient with an intractable eye disease.

Regenerative medical research, which Japan wholeheartedly promotes, should never be allowed to stall. For this, RIKEN, as a whole, should urgently introduce necessary measures to address these problems.

The governance of the RIKEN headquarters must be made more robust. After the scandal surfaced, RIKEN took a “half-hearted approach to unravel what lies behind the irregularities and the specifics of why such wrongdoings occurred,” the committee said in a sharp criticism of the research body.

RIKEN is a representative, large-scale Japanese research body, which annually receives more than ¥80 billion in funds from the state coffer.

Saying the management of RIKEN by its president and five directors is hardly sufficient, the committee proposed the establishment of a management council that would be joined by external members as well as a body that would work to prevent research irregularities.

The ball is now in RIKEN’s court to demonstrate how effectively it will rebuild itself.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 16, 2014)


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