May 28, 2020

The Niche

Knoepfler lab stem cell blog

STAP April Update: Super Stressful on All Fronts

What’s going on with the STAP cell situation now that it is into its third month?

It’s getting worse instead of better or clearer, at least in part due to RIKEN’s incomplete investigation.

What’s going on with STAP?

New RIKEN Press Conference

TJO stap

RIKEN reportedly held an odd sort of limited press conference today that TJO has tweeted was not encouraging at all (see above the first in TJO’s series of Tweets). I highly recommend following TJO on Twitter. Apparently RIKEN is still greatly limiting the scope of looking into STAP.

What else is going on?

Dr. Ken Lee Stops on STAP

The most prominent scientist testing replication of STAP, Dr. Ken Lee, has decided to no longer work on these efforts and/or report them on ResearchGate. Last week some media outlets greatly hyped a single preliminary result that Lee posted causing a lot of misinformation to be disseminated.

Waseda University Investigation

The Japan News reports that Obokata’s alma mater, Waseda University, will screen all its students’ theses for plagiarism. It has been alleged that Obokata’s thesis has extensive plagiarism. The same newspaper reports that Obokata will not be permitted to join in the RIKEN efforts at seeing if STAP can be verified.

Is RIKEN Fumbling its STAP investigation?

RIKEN, the premier biomedical research institute in Japan that was a hub of STAP research, is widely perceived to have fumbled on the situation in a number of ways.

Their efforts at a timely investigation into the matter were in theory potentially positive, but most folks that I have talked with seem to now feel that RIKEN’s motivations for the speed may have more to do with funding and politics in Japan as well as putting the story behind them than in a true desire to efficiently get to the bottom of things.

The general vibe is that RIKEN has botched key aspects of the investigation. For example, there are important elements of the controversy that RIKEN seems to have dismissed as unimportant or not addressed publicly at all such as the possibility of the STAP cells being contaminated with ES or iPS cells, and plagiarism.

There is a wider sense that RIKEN may have tried to make Obokata into a universal “fall guy” deflecting blame from some of the others involved in STAP. It’s difficult to know the facts of course for those of us on the outside and who is responsible for what.

Obokata in Hospital, But Scheduled to Give Press Conference in Just a Couple Days.

Meantime, Dr. Haruko Obokata (first author on both STAP Nature papers) reportedly is appealing RIKEN’s conclusion alleging that she engaged in misconduct and the plan was for her to give a public statement on Wednesday, but she now reportedly is in the hospital:

“…Haruko Obokata has been hospitalized today because her mental and physical condition is unstable,” the statement said. It said any reporter wishing to attend the Wednesday news conference must “be considerate of her mental and physical state.”

If Obokata is able to do the press conference on Wednesday despite the health issues, what might she say? It’s hard to know, but she is likely to dispute RIKEN’s claims.

What’s coming next for STAP?

I theorized in a recent post that STAP’s future course could well be similar to that of VSELs, another (perhaps related?) type of enigmatic stem cell. There is still largely nothing publicly  available on any investigations at Harvard/Brigham and Women’s Hospital on STAP, although a seminar scheduled for April 1 by the Nature article senior author, Dr. Charles Vacanti, was postponed. Realistically any potential news from Harvard looking into the matter (assuming they are doing so) is not likely to come out before 2015.

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