Stem Cell Controversy-How an acid bath leaves you a skeleton??

Two papers describing the stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency (STAP) Stem cells, which received mass attention, earlier January this year, have been retracted from the scientific journal Nature after about six months of publication. The titles of the papers are “Stimulus-triggered fate conversion of somatic cells into pluripotency” (H. Obokata et al. Nature 505, 641–647; 2014) and “Bidirectional developmental potential in reprogrammed cells with acquired pluripotency” (H. Obokata et al. Nature 505, 676–680; 2014).

Human embryonic stem cells that are not yet differentiated.

These papers described a versatile strategy for producing stem cells without any amendment of genetic material-DNA. The papers claimed STAP requires neither nuclear transfer nor introduction of any transcription factors. The process of producing STAP stem cells as explained in the paper is simple. Regular cells from any body part are taken and then exposed to stress, by dipping them in an acid bath. This process seemed to be rich and resourcefull in nature and promised stem cells exploitation in disease treatments.

Researchers tried to reproduce these STAP cells for months, but all in vain. The protocols and data described in the papers have been proven to be manipulated/misrepresented or non-reproducible.

What Authors to say about it?

A statement describing the details of the errors, at least in five points has been outlined by the authors of the papers.

“We apologize for the mistakes included in the Article and Letter. These multiple errors impair the credibility of the study as a whole and we are unable to say without doubt whether the STAP-SC phenomenon is real. Ongoing studies are investigating this phenomenon afresh, but given the extensive nature of the errors currently found, we consider it appropriate to retract both papers.”

What Nature reveals about it?

“We at Nature have examined the reports about the two papers from our referees and our own editorial records. Before publishing, we had checked that the results had been independently replicated in the laboratories of the co-authors, and we regret that we did not capture the authors’ assurances in the author-contributions statements.”

While highlighting the policy of retraction, Nature also mentions an important note that goes like this-

The papers themselves have now been clearly watermarked to highlight their retracted status, but will remain hosted on Nature’s website, as is consistent with our retraction policy. (In our opinion, to take down retracted papers from journal websites amounts to an attempt to rewrite history, and makes life needlessly difficult for those wishing to learn from such episodes.)”

How reputation of authors can get you a Nature publication.

The authors of the papers published were almost all reputed in their respective fields. Teruhiko Wakayama is a well known internationally known Mouse cloning pioneer. Hitoshi Niwa is an internationally respected stem cell researcher at RIKEN CDB. Charles A. Vacanti is a well known tissue engineer at Brigham and is the corresponding author of these papers. C.A. Vacanti in an official letter to Nature on 30th May this year agreed to retract the papers and was last of the authors to do so.

It seems that Nature has overlooked the things in the papers due to these big names on front. Peer-review system seems to be ineffective and slow.  It no doubt is clear that we need more filters and scrutiny for screening the manuscripts to prevent future controversies and misleading research. Science is all build upon trust and if one researcher for the sake of increasing his/her impact points misleads other researchers then he/she has no right to be in the scientific community. It is about wasting time, effort, money etc and all this makes you look a crook in eyes of others. The pictures below shows lead author Haruko Obokata after queries were raised about her paper.


Nature has published an editorial about the STAP stem cell controversy and is a worthy read (Source Link 1)



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