STAP Stem Cell Update 3.0: Patent, Possible New Paper Problems, & Poll Plummet

STAP Patent. People have been taking a long look over the last 24 hours or so at the STAP stem cell patent application filed by Charles Vacanti, his brother, Obokata, and others. Any reactions? I don’t know much about patents so I’d be curious of your impressions.

STAP patent

New STAP paper troubles? I’m hearing through the stem grapevine (take it with a grain of salt?) that Nature‘s investigation into allegations of problems with the STAP Nature papers go beyond the placenta and DNA gel lane image issues already raised on PubPeer (here and here) and elsewhere.

What might be the other shoe(s) to drop if any?

To my knowledge, the data sets from the papers still have not been put into a open database. What’s the backstory there?

Poll plummets. My running tracking poll on people’s confidence overall in STAP stem cells has taken an abrupt turn for the first time. Respondents have turned sharply negative on STAP in this poll. The third week of polling is still ongoing at that link if you haven’t voted yet and we have 550 votes so far. It’s not a scientific poll and a couple curmudgeons have complained about that by way of disclosure, but the stem cell community seems to find it generally of interest and we are getting hundreds of respondents per poll from all around the world.

Consider this an open thread to discuss STAP stem cells in the comments.

8 thoughts on “STAP Stem Cell Update 3.0: Patent, Possible New Paper Problems, & Poll Plummet


  1. Some considerations regarding the patent application based on the link you have provided above:

    (1) This is a publication of a patent application, not an issued patent. Therefore, the final issued claims (if any) will likely be quite different from what you see here.

    (2) This application was filed with the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), which accepts “international patent applications” but does not actually have the authority to issue patents (WIPO applications are then basically forwarded to WIPO member countries designated by the applicant for local prosecution, which results in patents being examined and issued in the member countries, as there is no such thing as a “world patent”).

    (3) The international search report associated with the WIPO publication (click on the “documents” tab in the link you posted above) preliminarily suggests that a 2011 patent application publication by Dezawa (probably MUSE cells) and a 2011 patent application publication by Jaenisch are applicable as prior art to at least some of the claims, although this may or may not actually be true (the actual applicability as prior art and other factors such as unexpected results will be determined during examination).

    It is really too early to say anything about the patent application because information is not available regarding national stage examination, which is going to determine whether it is actually patentable and what parts are patentable.

    However, where a discussion of the patent application publication is relevant is in addressing whether it provides enough information for someone else to make STAP cells without undue experimentation, which is also a requirement for patentability. Given that people seem to be having difficulty in replicating the STAP findings, possibly because of a lack of detailed methodological information in the Nature papers, it may be a good idea to redirect discussion of the patent application to specifically addressing whether it includes methodological details lacking from the Nature papers that may now allow others working in the field to replicate the findings. Does it?


  2. regarding a methodology, has anyone ever seen enough explanation in the methods section to replicate exactly any given experiment? That’s why students/post docs go from lab to lab to learn. To think that an experiment can be reproduced given only the data in a journal articles is naive at best. Of course, this only highlights problems with publishing studies, and not the laboratories involved.

    Also, there is no great surprise that the poll numbers have swung from yes to no. There has been precious little optimism given towards the researchers about their work (other than Nature themselves). I’m all for hunting out poor researchers and those whose only aim it is to deceive, having had first hand experience of this, but is it time to be optimistic, these were Nature papers, given proper reviews by, one would hope, top researchers. Indeed it would be remiss if these papers were not reviewed in such a manner. Is it possible (this is an honest question) to see anonymised reviewers and editors comments about these studies? Militapov’s work proved to have some errors in the preparation of their groundbreaking work, but few were whipped into the journalistic frenzy equal to what has happened


  3. The SCIENTIST article is updated. It is bad.
    http://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/39211/title/Stress-Induced-Stem-Cell-Method-Questioned/
    Update (February 20): Though he did not respond to an interview request prior to the publication of this story, study coauthor Charles Vacanti from Harvard Medical School today told The Scientist: “There has been a significant amount of interest, speculation, and scrutiny since our STAP cell papers were published in Nature [last month]. I understand that questions have been raised around certain images that were used in the publication. I believe that these concerns are a result of minor errors that occurred in the manuscript editing process and do not affect the overall content of the published reports, the scientific data, or the conclusions. Until these issues are resolved, I cannot share information beyond what has been published.”


  4. I miss the good old days when articles here were thoughtful, detailed, and deeply informative. Lately it seems as though they read like Entertainment Tonight trailers. Come back, Paul!


  5. In the paper by Obokata et al., they declare “no competing financial interests.”
    http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v505/n7485/full/nature12968.html

    But as noted in this post, the authors of the Obokata et al. papers, with others, have made patent filings.
    http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v505/n7485/full/nature12968.html

    Nature’s stated policy is that patent applications are competing financial interests that should be declared.
    http://www.nature.com/authors/policies/competing.html

    How are the above facts viewed by researchers in this field?


    • A very interesting point. Nature says that “patents or patent applications whose value may be affected by publication” is a conflict; one would certainly imagine that publication in Nature might increase the value of a patent.


  6. The following paragraph in the patent application really stumped me! No wonder folks are having difficulty replicating the experiments!
    [0008] …….. In some embodiments, the stress comprises exposing the cell to a pH of from about 4.5 to about 6.0. In some embodiments, the stress comprises exposing the cell to a pH of from about 5.4 to about 5.8. In some embodiments, the cell is exposed for 1 day or less. In some embodiments, the cell is exposed for 1 hour or less. In some embodiments, the cell is exposed for about 30 minutes.

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