The publication yesterday of two papers refuting the existence of so-called STAP cells marches us closer as a field toward closure on this unfortunate situation. Close, but not quite there.
We know a lot more about what went happened, but 5 key questions remain.
There is a chance that we may never get answers to some or even all of these questions, but without more information STAP will remain not entirely resolved. It will be harder for the field to learn from it and move on.
The open questions are the following:
- How did the ES cells get into the mix of what were supposed to be STAP cells?
- How did trophoblastic stem cells get into some supposed STAP cell-related lines?
- Why did Nature even publish the STAP papers in the first place? This is especially puzzling given what we know about the very critical reviews at Nature of the originally submitted version of the STAP papers? Was it an editorial decision to over-ride reviewer concerns or did the papers undergo a new as-yet unrevealed second review that was somehow much more positive? Some combination?
- Since reportedly (A) at least one stem cell researcher from George Daley’s lab who was trying to replicate STAP in the Vacanti lab within months of the publication of STAP at the end of January 2014 quickly found serious reasons for concern, and (B) the new Daley lab-led paper refuting STAP was submitted to Nature on November 10, 2014, why in early September of 2014 did the Vacanti lab post a strong reaffirmation of belief in STAP (“a phenomenon in which we have absolute confidence.”) along with a modified protocol?
- Will the Vacanti lab and/or Brigham and Women’s/Harvard release a statement or even do a perspectives paper deconstructing what happened with STAP from their view? It might go a long way toward moving on from STAP.
Note that Alexey has raised some of the same issues in a recommended new post over at Stem Cell Assays.