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2014年9月 2日 (火)

STAP検証 実験を続ける意味があるのか

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Can continued verification tests for STAP cells’ existence be worthwhile?
STAP検証 実験を続ける意味があるのか

The existence of STAP cells can now be considered extremely questionable.

The government-backed RIKEN research institute, in an interim report announced Wednesday, said a raft of verification experiments it conducted to determine whether so-called STAP (stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency) cells exist failed to confirm even initial signs of their existence.

The verification tests faithfully followed the procedures described in articles on STAP cells, whose lead author was RIKEN researcher Haruko Obokata, by soaking cells of the spleens of mice in a mildly acidic solution to stimulate them. Twenty-two attempts were made to cause the cells to acquire pluripotency, capable of developing into any type of tissue, but all the attempts came to nothing, the RIKEN interim report said.

RIKEN says it will continue with the experiments by changing test conditions, such as the way the cells are stimulated, until March next year. Methods different from that described in the papers in question will also be tested, according to RIKEN.

Apart from this, RIKEN is allowing Obokata to conduct verification experiments separately through the end of November this year.

The institute has been stressing it is determined to establish whether STAP cells exist to fulfill the institute’s accountability to the public.

RIKEN’s decision is highly questionable. After RIKEN’s verification tests started in April, the STAP papers were retracted in July, signifying that the STAP studies were entirely discredited. The scientific implication is that STAP cells “cannot exist.”

Given such a situation, can it be considered meaningful to spend public money to continue with the verification tests? The tests being implemented by RIKEN can be considered a “devil’s proof,” or an attempt to establish the nonexistence of something.

Reducing CDB by half

The capture of an abominable snowman, for instance, would prove it’s existence. To substantiate the nonexistence of the snowman, however, would require a search of the whole world with a fine-tooth comb. The call by the Molecular Biology Society of Japan to stop the STAP experiments is reasonable.

The STAP misconduct has badly damaged public trust in RIKEN. The institute must now work out and implement thorough measures to prevent a recurrence of research misconduct.

Based on a set of recommendations by an external panel of experts, RIKEN has drawn up action plans for organizational revamping. The plans envision refurbishing the institute’s organizational framework by halving the size of the Center for Developmental Biology in Kobe, the RIKEN arm where the STAP studies were conducted.

Suspicions regarding STAP cells, which arose in February, have adversely affected CDB’s research activities. One tragic result was the suicide of Yoshiki Sasai, deputy chief of the CDB and one of the major coauthors of the STAP cell papers, in early August.

The CDB has been the nation’s hub of regenerative medicine studies. Indeed, it is scheduled to carry out clinical research—the first of its kind—on implantation of retina cells generated from iPS (induced pluripotent stem) cells.

RIKEN should build an environment to ensure scientists there can concentrate on their studies, by enhancing transparency of its activities, including personnel affairs, through streamlining its organization.

RIKEN’s leadership has decided to create a council on management strategy to improve its internal governance, but procedures for the selection of the council’s personnel have yet to be established. By making the most of views from outside, RIKEN must ramp up its crisis management capabilities.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Aug. 31, 2014)Speech


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