Harvard STAP cell authors release new protocol, affirm belief in phenomenon

Even as everyone was going through the Science and Nature reviews of the rejected STAP papers this week, something else on the STAP front that happened last week.

What’s up?

Well, the STAP Nature papers are retracted, RIKEN CDB is going to be reorganized, RIKEN CDB has tried at least 22 times to make STAP cells and every time it didn’t work, and senior STAP author Charles Vacanti in theory is now on sabbatical as of September 1st. Even so Vacanti and fellow STAP researcher Koji Kojima, released yet another new STAP protocol on September 3.

The new protocol is intended to have a better chance to work for others.

Their first bullet point is admission of an earlier misstep in saying it was “easy” to make STAP cells. Apparently they concede it’s actually kind of hard to make STAP cells.

One could ask where is the line between hard and impossible?

Their second point is to suggest that people try making STAP cells not just with low pH, but also adding in ATP.

Then they dive into detailing an actual protocol in a step-by-step fashion. They call it the most effective STAP protocol “du jour”.

They close with a paragraph that I think contains a key typo (emphasis mine):

We have developed this most recent protocol to address concerns that to date, to our knowledge, other groups have been able to generate STAP cells using our previously published or posted protocols. While we are confident that the original protocols published, will work if performed with meticulous attention to detail, we have tried to develop a protocol based on new information, that should be much more effective in demonstrating a phenomenon in which we have absolute confidence.

I think they meant in the first sentence to say “other groups have been unable to generate STAP cells…”

In fact as far as I know, nobody has been able to make STAP cells in replication efforts including Obokata herself.

Vacanti and Kojima conclude by saying that they still firmly believe in STAP.

7 thoughts on “Harvard STAP cell authors release new protocol, affirm belief in phenomenon


  1. I would say that the main source of the idea of STAP cells has always been the Harvard lab. More probably, the Japanese scientists simply took their word as gospel because it comes from Harvard and I know how sheepishly here (in Japan) people consider those world known brands such as Harvard to be of superior quality without trying to find out if it were true.
    Add some competition with Kyoto group, jealousy and desire to outdo them, plus overworked senior scientists who trusted the people who really did run the experiments, and a young person, unqualified and untrained in scientific conduct and methodology and you get here. Somewhere there was a pressure to get something significant as a publication and voila.


    • The Japanese have shown a commendable public commitment to uncovering the truth of STAP cells, and holding accountable those who made mistakes.

      …while Harvard are doing (as far as we know) – absolutely nothing at all.

      So in future, I would hope that Japanese scientists are less sheepish around Ivy League-rs. They can hold their heads high.


  2. I call this strategy the “cargo cult martingale”, and we’ve seen it before in places like arsenic life and cold fusion.

    In the face of extraordinary efforts that clearly demonstrate the original authors of the cargo cult hypothesis are wrong in an elementary sense, they perpetually double down on exponentially increasingly improbable hypothesis. As long as one ignores the solvency of one’s credibility, the strategy makes sense.


    • I agree. The problem is that none of this seems to be at an end… and it may get worse before it gets better. ..


  3. I hope this blog keeps track of people who try the new protocol. The Harvard group just made the crow bigger and someone’s going to have to eat it.


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