September 19, 2020

The Niche

Knoepfler lab stem cell blog

Top 10 Oddest Things About The Unfolding STAP Stem Cell Story

Supposed STAP stem cells
Supposed STAP stem cells.

We know quite a bit more about the Nature papers on stress-induced STAP stem cells than we did just a couple weeks ago when they were published, but there are many crucial outstanding questions too and odd things that remain unresolved. Below are my top STAP stem cell oddities.

10. Dr. Vacanti says that STAP stem cells are probably the same as “spore stem cells”, a controversial possible type of Vacanti lab described ultra-tiny, ultra-tough kind of stem cell in spore-like form that can be as small as 1 micron. I still cannot wrap my head around the idea that STAP and spore stem cells are the same given what seem to me to be stark differences.

9. A controversial 2011 Obokata and Vacanti Tissue Engineering paper contains apparent numerous, serious image duplications/inversions. Does this connect to the Nature STAP papers, which have at least one image duplication as well? Will the Tissue Engineering paper be retracted?

8. Then there is also a duplicated placenta image in two different figures in one of the Nature STAP papers. It wasn’t even clear to me that those individual embryo/placenta figure panels were actually each overlays of multiple distinct images. Seems strange.

7. Post-publication of the STAP papers Nature did a survey of leading stem cell labs about the reproducibility of the STAP method described in its own published papers on STAP. That seems like a remarkable decision by a major journal.

6. Why didn’t the STAP authors follow Nature policy and deposit their data into an open database such as GEO before publication? Why is this only going to happen much later, perhaps weeks from now? Why didn’t Nature editors catch this issue pre-publication?

5. A Vacanti lab member, self-identified as a lab tech but without a specific name, goes on Reddit chatting about STAP shortly after the paper comes out. What the heck? This person goes by the name “Thyferra2680” on Reddit. Who is s/he? Are they really a member of that lab? The full comment exchange can be found here. Here’s an example of one of Thyferra2690’s comments:

This is a huge deal for our lab! It’s a paper in Nature (which doesn’t fuck around with their publications) and it’s a completely brand new method of creating stem cells. It could lead to all sorts of new collaborations and people interested in the lab.

and also s/he said on high efficiency:

I don’t know if it’s just luck, but I’ve made STAPs just about every single time I’ve treated them….

4. Apparently the Vacanti lab, at least according to the lab tech on Reddit, does not even generally use the “acid bath” approach to make its STAP stem cells. It perhaps uses some other, agitation-based stress method? The supposed Vacanti tech said on Reddit: “A lot of people are asking me about the acid and the low pH method of creating STAPs. I’ll be completely honest, I don’t use the acid method.”

3. Dr. Vacanti is so open with the media, giving reporters unpublished data, making statements like that his lab has now made human STAP stem cells, and more. This is very unusual for scientists.

2. Not so easy! The STAP method is not working right now in the lab of one of the senior STAP paper authors, Teru Wakayama. He was quoted in Nature News yesterday as saying this method is not easy, which resonates ironically with the original Nature News article on STAP, which said it was an “easy path” to stem cells.

1. Why do the STAP Nature papers not contain methods descriptions sufficient for other labs to reproduce the results? Perhaps as many as a couple dozen people/labs have tried STAP and not gotten it to clearly work. Reportedly a separate methods paper on STAP is in the works by the STAP authors and in theory this should help other labs make STAP work, but why should that be necessary? Shouldn’t the collective methods of a published Nature letter and a Nature article be sufficient for replication?

Do any things about STAP that I haven’t mentioned strike you as particularly weird? Let us all know in the comments.

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