Scientific journal Nature retracts controversial stem cell papers

BY Rebecca Jacobson  July 8, 2014 at 4:22 PM EDT

Last week, the scientific journal Nature retracted two papers which claimed that skin cells could be turned into stem cells. PBS NewsHour interviewed lead author Dr. Charles Vacanti of Brigham and Women’s Hospital about the studies in January.

Vacanti and scientists from the RIKEN Institute in Japan claimed that bathing adult mouse cells in a mild acid made the cells behave like embryonic stem cells. It appeared to be an inexpensive way to create stem cells without destroying an embryo.

Controversy surrounding embryonic stem cells has slowed research progress. While it is possible to make stem cells from other sources, doing so is costly and takes time. If true, the finding would have opened new avenues for stem cell-related research and therapies.

But other scientists could not recreate stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency (STAP) cells. An investigation in April found that RIKEN Institute junior scientist Haruko Obokata had falsely identified some of the images in the study, and plagiarized some of the descriptions in the paper. The studies’ authors pointed to five more errors when the journal printed its retraction last week, including images that claimed to show two different things, but actually showed the same thing.

“We apologize for the mistakes included in the Article and Letter,” the authors wrote in a statement. “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.”