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2014年12月21日 (日)

STAP作れず 細胞の正体は何だったのか

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Failure to reproduce STAP cells leaves their true nature unknown
STAP作れず 細胞の正体は何だったのか

Results of verification experiments by RIKEN apparently suggest that stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency (STAP) cells, which had been dubbed “dream versatile cells,” are nothing more than an illusion.

RIKEN announced Friday that Haruko Obokata, one of its researchers, had failed in her verification experiments to produce STAP cells by the deadline set in November. The nation’s top science and research institute added that a RIKEN team, which conducted STAP cell verification experiments separately, reached the same result.

The institute decided to terminate the verification efforts. We think the termination is a reasonable judgment because there are no prospects for successful reproduction of the cells shown in her papers.

Articles on STAP cells had already been retracted in July because fraudulent conduct, such as falsification of data, was recognized in the papers. Nonetheless, RIKEN continued the verification tests “to prove whether STAP cells exist or not.”

With Friday’s announcement by RIKEN, the row over the authenticity of STAP cells — which Obokata claimed she succeeded in producing over 200 times — has reached a major milestone. Obokata said she would quit the institute.

Then, what really were the so-called STAP cells trumpeted by RIKEN in January? Some scientists say that they might be embryonic stem (ES) cells, which are versatile cells already known to science.

Was this a mistake caused by Obokata’s lack of expertise? Or was it an intentionally fraudulent claim? Though renowned researchers were listed as coauthors of the STAP cells papers along with Obokata, why couldn’t they detect the anomalies in her research? Many questions are left unanswered.

Lessons must be learned

RIKEN has been investigating how her papers were produced through the establishment of a third-party panel. Results of the investigations should be used to prevent a recurrence of similar incidents.

RIKEN must rebuild its governance and restore public trust in the organization as Japan’s top research institute as soon as possible, by learning a lesson from the fact that its self-checking system failed to function.

The scandal over STAP cells has also highlighted problems in the nation’s science community.

Criticism has mounted against Waseda University, which granted a doctorate to Obokata, since plagiarism was found in her doctoral thesis. The university admitted that there were problems in the process of examining her degree thesis to decide whether she deserved the doctorate.

Not only Waseda but also other universities need to inspect their systems for deciding on the conferment of degrees, and acknowledge once again the significance of teaching students basic rules for research activities.

This summer, the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry compiled new guidelines to prevent research misconduct that incorporate the enhancement of education on ethics. The guidelines should be used effectively to help young people undertake research with a sincere and serious attitude and develop flexible thinking.

The articles on STAP cells made headlines in news media around the world as a discovery that defied common wisdom because they were carried by a prestigious British science journal.

However, we must remember that, when such articles are published, a new discovery is still no more than a hypothesis. While maintaining an attitude of cautious self-criticism, we pledge to report science news in a level-headed manner.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Dec. 20, 2014)Speech


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