STAP cells (stap細胞) are real deal says new Vacanti patent declaration

vacanti-stap-figure-2017

STAP is back?vacanti-stap-figure-2017

Really?

No, I don’t believe so, but there’s an interesting development and twist on the STAP cell front.

Just a few days ago on January 4, 2017 Dr. Charles Vacanti, the originator of the STAP cells concept, submitted a declaration to the USPTO affirming the belief that STAP cells are real and requesting that the patent office allow the rejected STAP patent application to be reconsidered.

I find a number of aspects of this development notable:

  • The declaration says they have generated new data supporting STAP, but the two figures shown are in my opinion unconvincing. More specifically, just showing some floating spheres and an image of a single cell (not even stained for a marker) doesn’t really prove anything. You can see a snapshot of Figure 1 above. Note that in May 2016 an Obokata-associated website posted some supposed STAP validation data as well, but in my view it too wasn’t at all convincing.
  • qPCR results on induced expression of pluripotency genes are mentioned, but I didn’t see that actual data in the document or other related documents so as far as I can tell it can’t be evaluated at this point. Update: I’m still searching to see if I can find a patent document that shows the new qPCR and it may be in there somewhere. Stay tuned. BTW, you can look at the patent documents directly yourself at this USPTO website. Plug in patent application #14/397,080 and click on the tab at the top that reads “Image File Wrapper”. I’m not a patent expert so there may be other useful tabs at the top as well where for instance the qPCR data could be found or other information.
  • The declaration expresses concern with how Nature handled the STAP cell situation with the retractions, indicating that in the view of some of the authors there should have been an indication that the authors believed the concept was real.
  • Why do some of the STAP authors believe in it still but many others in the stem cell field don’t? Apparently, according to the declaration, the other labs who tried the STAP method just didn’t use the proper technique. I have doubts about that explanation. For instance, Vacanti’s own Harvard/B&W’s colleague George Daley and other top stem cell scientists published two BCA pieces in Nature refuting the existence of STAP. Reportedly they even did some of this work in Vacanti’s own lab with someone who was an author on the STAP papers.
  • The STAP cell patent application has been transferred to a private company called Vcell Therapeutics, Inc., which seems somewhat obscure. A Japanese blog has dug into this situation and mentions a J. Kelly Ganjei, a name I’m not familiar with, as a leader of Vcell. There’s even some speculation that Vcell may be short for “Vacanti cell”, but I don’t know about that. Given the sound of the company’s name I can’t help but think of VSELs, another controversial kind of stem cell, when reading the word “Vcell”.

For background you might find my interview with Vacanti a few days after the now retracted Nature STAP papers came out, to be an interesting read.

Overall, I’m not any more convinced now that STAP is real, but with this declaration and the emergence of Vcell it seems that there may be an attempt to commercialize the technology or at least there are hopes for that. Given the Hwang experience with SCNT at the USPTO, it is possible that the STAP method may yet receive a patent.

To be clear, does stressing cells change their fate and properties more generally in some ways when it doesn’t kill them? Yes, but I just don’t believe it reprograms somatic cells into pluripotent stem cells a la STAP.

14 Comments


  1. I wonder who the “majority” of the authors are who still believe in STAP and whether Dr. Vacanti reconfirmed with them that they still do.

    Also found it interesting that Dr. Vacanti re-asserted in the declaration that all the misconducts were done by the first author, which may suggest this was not read by her before filing.


  2. Funny that for qPCR levels they state against control, if a somatic cell there should essentially be no detectable pluripotent marks and therefore the relative levels of expression if indeed pluripotent should be increased many Log fold as see with hiPSCs vs parental fibs….Hopefully this is the final death throws of STAP.


  3. I find stunning the difference in treatment between the Japanese and American scientific community over the STAP scandal. While the Japanese media went way too far, i find the reaction of the RIKEN examplary in face of scientific misconduct. On the other hand, the lack of reaction on the American side is very worrying…


  4. I am pleased to note that STAP cells may get revived. There is some truth in the concept and I am happy Americans did not over react compared to the Japanese counterparts. The article was written on validation by several groups which reported they all failed to replicate. I hold the view that STAP phenomenon does not represent novel somatic cell reprogramming but represent a sub-population of pluripotent stem cells that start growing in response to change in the pH. These are the spore-like cells described by Vacanti or MAPCs/MIAMI/VSELs /MUSE cells. These are different names given to pluripotent stem cells in adult tissues. Why these cells remain elusive and it is difficult to reproduce the results. Simple answer is that they do not pellet down when cells are spun at 1200 rpm. They pellet down at a speed of 3000 rpm. Thus they are invariably discarded during processing. This the underlying reason why these stem cells remain elusive even in the best labs across the world. Pluripotent stem cells in adult tissues will be best candidates for regenerative medicine. Please refer to Fig 3 in the link provided. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27614362


  5. Coexpression of ES and TS markers can be seen in registered data of FI-SC Chip-seq which was regarded as ES.
    How can we explain this fact?


  6. Hi Paul,

    I was wondering if I could still have your view on STAP cells.

    In Japan, there is a blogger who is purportedly a pediatrician and keeps posting sort of fantasies around the STAP scandal (if you recall). Recently she referred to your name in a post, suggesting that you have supported Riken’s conclusion that STAP cells are derived from ES cells, knowing that it is not valid or plausible. She implies that you just wanted to let the conclusion support your position on stem cell treatments that most of them are just costly and meritless.

    I am not even sure if you have such a position and I guess you wouldn’t care about what a Japanese blogger posts in Japanese, but could you let me know if you have ever doubted, or are still in doubt about, the official conclusion of Riken’s investigation that STAP cells are derived from ES cells?

    Best,
    Mari


    • Hi Mari,
      I haven’t seen any reason to change my original view being skeptical that STAP cells are real.
      There was some evidence provided that what were represented as “STAP cells” at the time were actually a mixture of other cells including ES cells. I have not independently confirmed that myself and it might be hard for others to do so at this point related to sample availability, etc., but I wasn’t aware of any evidence arguing against the ES cell argument.
      My view on stem cells is that I hope they can be made to work (be proven safe and effective) for many conditions, but we just aren’t there yet as clinical trials are still ongoing and we haven’t gotten to the point where new stem cells therapies beyond bone marrow/hematopoietic stem cells have been proven. So I am a pro-stem cell advocate, but I just believe they shouldn’t be sold to patients prior to proof that they are safe and effective. I am very much supportive of responsible stem cell clinic trials as well that have governmental OKs for conducting the work.
      Could you share the blogger’s link so I can take a look via Google translate and/or a friend who speaks Japanese?
      Thanks,
      Paul


  7. Hi Paul,

    Thanks for your prompt, thorough and sincere response to my question. Each of your responses completely makes sense and is abundantly clear to me. I hate that I am bothering you by this but here is the link of the blog article: https://blogs.yahoo.co.jp/solid_1069/15433339.html#15439063

    Your name is referred to somewhere in the middle and in the comments I have argued with the administrator several times over what she meant. (I use a name meaning “anonymous” in Japanese.)

    Again, I appreciate your sincere message and I hope this type of fantasies will go away soon.

    Best,
    Mari

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