STAP stem cell update 2.0: method isn’t working so far, investigations & more

STAP cell embryo
STAP embryo?

STAP cell embryoToday may be a turning point in the STAP stem cell story.

Nature itself opened up in a newsy piece about the events that have occurred in the past couple weeks since they published two related papers on acid/other stimulus-induced powerful pluripotent or totipotent stem cells (aka STAP stem cells). Update: Science also published a news piece on STAP.

All around the world scientists have been trying to get STAP-like methods to work for the past couple weeks. To help I started a STAP stem cell crowdsourcing effort on this blog (see our page here) as a means for people to post  their preliminary STAP attempt data/reports and talk about what they’ve found, provide tips for others (e.g. dying cells change the pH of the solution, watch out for autofluorescence, and more), etc.

In today’s piece Nature gave a hat tip to our crowdsourcing effort, which is great. We have 9 reports so far that are largely negative. Interestingly Nature mentioned that its own survey of 10 bigwig stem cell labs also found none had gotten STAP to work.

Perhaps even more concerning is that one of the key authors on the STAP papers, Teru Wakayama, said to Nature that while STAP did work for him in the past, now that he has moved on it no longer works in his own new lab:

“He and a student in his laboratory did replicate the experiment independently before publication, after being well coached by Obokata. But since he moved to Yamanashi, he has had no luck. “It looks like an easy technique — just add acid — but it’s not that easy,” he says.”

The Nature article also openly mentioned the controversy surrounding what could potentially be a duplicate image of a placenta in one of the Nature STAP papers (I’m still not clear if it is a duplication) and many instances of image duplication and inversion in a 2011 paper by Vacanti and Obokata reporting adult pluripotent stem cells.

RIKEN is investigating.

I wrote about my top reasons for skepticism about STAP here earlier on, but now a few weeks into this I am growing more skeptical.

Even if STAP  is real, it may well be an extremely difficult, variable technology that may not catch on like iPS cells did and may not work at all in human cells. There is also concern that STAP stem cells could be damaged and prone to forming malignant tumors.

I hope that STAP is a real thing. I really do. It would be very exciting and important. However, so far it isn’t looking too encouraging.

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