Perspectives: RIKEN itself fails to reproduce STAP & big CDB shake up expected soon

Nikkei is reporting that the RIKEN internal attempt to replicate so-called STAP (acid bath) cells has failed. Update: apparently, although RIKEN calls the efforts preliminary, the team tried to make STAP an amazing 22 times and 22 times it failed.

The rumors for weeks in the stem cell gapevine that RIKEN itself could not get STAP to work, even with the help of Dr. Haruko Obokata, have been confirmed by Nikkei. Obokata was first author on both Nature STAP papers, which were retracted. One of Obokata’s mentors and a STAP paper co-author, Dr. Yoshiki Sasai, recently committed suicide at least in part likely due to issue related to STAP. See a tribute to Dr. Sasai here.

STAP cell embryo

The best that the RIKEN team could get in the replication attempt, according to Nikkei sources, was a “faint” hint of pluripotent markers “nowhere near” to that observed in iPS cells or embryonic stem cells. STAP cells were supposed to be not just pluripotent, but also totipotent, allowing for contribution to an entire embryo (see image at left from the STAP work). Now that claim seems light years from reality. For more background on STAP and a timeline of the events see here.

This may be the final straw that pushes RIKEN to formally declare that STAP cells do not exist, a conclusion that I think the world of science has mostly already come to some time ago.

This latest twist is no surprise and just adds to the continuing STAP sadness, but hopefully is another step toward an end for the STAP disaster.

Unfortunately, however, this could get even worse.

Nikkei also reports that tomorrow RIKEN will announce a major shakeup at the RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology (CDB), where much of the original STAP work took place, that could mean as much as half of the scientists at the CDB moving to other RIKEN units and in a few cases losing their jobs (update: new reports and sources indicate that most RIKEN employees leaving the CDB will be transferred to other RIKEN units and not lose their jobs). That seems grossly unfair as most of the affected people would probably have had nothing to do with STAP. This anticipated personnel cut would be just another level of tragedy to the STAP story.


6 thoughts on “Perspectives: RIKEN itself fails to reproduce STAP & big CDB shake up expected soon

  1. RIKEN has suffered from an acid bath and its CDB will be shaken up by the falling STAP cells. But how could Nature survive this disaster without any damage and, more likely, with an even higher impact factor because of the positive AND negative citations of its even retracted twin STAP cell papers? Nature should open its “stringent” peer review files to let the world know how it picked up a shaky “discovery” for extremely high-profile publication.

  2. People would get transferred to other positions, in newly established divisions and groups. No one would lose their job. A very Japanese way of dealing with things. Change names, change some positions, no punishments handed out.

  3. Paul,
    Someone closer to RIKEN than me can probably clarify whether or not this is true, but, my understanding is that the loss of jobs is not only a punishment but also a simple result of loss of funding. Dr. Sasai was unique in his ability to gather money from both industry and government. Without his leadership (and with the lowering of CDB’s reputation) comes a tremendous loss in funding.

    This is not to say that the end result is fair, but it may be inevitable.

  4. With all eyes on Riken, it’s easy to forget that thefe another lab who claimed to have replicated STAP and have never recanted: Vacanti’s!

    Riken may have screwed up but at least they’re showing accountability…

  5. I think RIKKEN is trying to go along with the external investigation report submitted in last spring. They suggested the dissolution of the Center not just because of the STAP papers but also because of the fact that Dr. Obokata was recruited into Rikken even though a lot of researchers knew she was probably not qualified to get such a coveted postdoc position. .

    It should be noted that Japanese universities and research institutes do not have as thorough rules regarding faculty/researcher recruitment. The country is beginning to see some lawsuits about unfair employment practices, but the number of the lawsuits are there nowhere close to the ones in the US. So they haven’t needed such rules. In fact the Rikken external report also said that the institute doesn’t have many rules about it.

    As I was reading the report, I thought a reasonable conclusion would be to suggest more thorough and transparent procedural rules to minimize the risk of hiring another unqualified candidate, but they instead suggested a “developmental dissolution,” meaning that they would dissolve the Center with a possibility of recreating a new center similar to the CDB..

    By the way, Obokata is allowed to do her experiment from September to November. Tanba group will continue until next March. So more reports are on their ways, I guess.

  6. although it hadn’t been experimented by other scientists, media of Japan reported it too early. if they didn’t, other RIKEN scientists wouldn’t lose their position.

Comments are closed.