January 16, 2021

The Niche

Trusted stem cell blog & resources

4th Obokata retraction after Harvard investigation: STAP saga finally over?

Retraction Watch broke the news that Haruko Obokata of the STAP cell train wreck now has a 4th paper retraction.

The publication related to the controversial idea that adult tissues have pluripotent potential or actual pluripotent stem cells in them so it was kind of foundational for the debunked STAP cell idea. It also reminds me of VSELs and MUSE cells too, which people to this day still publish about without much attention. There could be some retractions related to VSELs and MUSE cells coming in future years though. We’ll see.

Haruko Obokata
Obokata presenting supposed STAP cells in happier time.

The newly retracted Obokata paper was entitled The Potential of Stem Cells in Adult Tissues Representative of the Three Germ Layers, by authors Obokata H, Kojima K, Westerman K, Yamato M, Okano T, Tsuneda S, and Vacanti CA, and was in the journal Tissue Engineering Part A.

Thus, the paper in question had one of Obokata’s STAP cell research mentors, former Harvard Professor Charles Vacanti, as a senior author. The retraction followed a Harvard investigation. The journal notice has the key details:

“Dr. Charles A. Vacanti, the senior author of the article entitled, “The Potential of Stem Cells in Adult Tissues Representative of the Three Germ Layers,” (vol. 17, nos. 5/6, pages 607–615), published in the March 2011 issue of Tissue Engineering: Part A contacted the Journal to request a formal retraction of the article following an investigation by a Harvard Medical School Committee on Scientific Integrity evaluating a published erratum of the original work presented.

The reader is directed to the published correction notice to the article in 2014.1 While the authors maintained that the published erratum was accurate, the committee could not validate the accuracy of the corrections. Consequently, the authors agreed to request a formal retraction.

Tissue Engineering, its editors, and its publisher are committed to upholding the strictest standards of the scientific record and the community it serves.”

There were some odd things about this paper, but it’s not clear from the retraction notice or the little that Harvard vaguely said to Retraction Watch what exactly triggered the retraction. Here’s the PubPeer listing for this paper, which six years ago noted some issues.

I’ve also wondered what happens to folks like Vacanti and Obokata after a major scientific train wreck like STAP. What do you do with the rest of your life? In Obokata’s case there have been a few bits of news about what she’s been up to in the last few years.

So is this the final big STAP news?

Or could there be any other “shoes” out there still waiting to drop?

I hope it’s really over.