Recommended reads: Nature Catherine Verfaillie retraction, Horvath paper, Vertex

When I was first really getting into stem cells as a trainee the name Catherine Verfaillie came up as a scientist to watch in the adult stem cell area. It wasn’t too long after that though that I started hearing that some of the work from her lab at the University of Minnesota was being questioned.

Now 20+ years later, the story continues with a new retraction.

Catherine Verfaillie retraction, Catherine Verfaillie
While there were once glowing stories about Catherine Verfaillie including one from University of Minnesota referring to magic stem cells.

Dubious or even fake stem cells come to mind after latest Catherine Verfaillie retraction

Here’s a piece on the new retraction. Nature retracts highly cited 2002 paper that claimed adult stem cells could become any type of cell, Retraction Watch. Not all retractions are of equal importance. We just got from Nature arguably one of the most important and long-overdue stem cell research paper retractions ever. It’s remarkable that the journal took this long to retract the paper. It seems more recent work by Elisabeth Bik and others played a role here.

The retracted paper claimed that multipotent adult progenitor cells (MAPCs) had unusual potency and could engraft. MCAPs were thought to be kind of like a cousin to MSCs. Catherine Verfaillie has had three other papers retracted as well.

According to Retraction Watch this is the most cited retracted paper in history with nearly 4,500 citations. This kind of flawed paper does immense harm to science. The delay in retracting it just makes things worse too.

This also brings to mind MUSE cells, VSELs, and even  STAP cells. In my view, none of these are real, naturally occurring stem cells. I still run into comments from people every few years who suggest that stress can make pluripotent stem cells from regular adult cells.

Other recommended reads

4 thoughts on “Recommended reads: Nature Catherine Verfaillie retraction, Horvath paper, Vertex”

  1. Just a couple quick comments here. As many know, Dr. Verfaillie hired me for my first academic (assistant professor) job specifically to do research on human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) at the University of Minnesota. So, while others used studies such as MAPCs to say hESCs were not needed, Catherine never contended that. Indeed, she always supported all types of stem cell research, and I am personally grateful for that.

    I agree that unfortunately, the MAPC work led to the various MUSE cells, STAP cells, and VESLs, etc. which I agree are various types of nonsense. I use this point to emphasize the amazing aspect of iPSCs is that how reproducible that work is. I am sure thousands of groups around the world have produced iPSCs and iPSC-derived cells are starting to make a clinical impact. Bottom line- reproducibility is so important for any major scientific claim, maybe more so in the stem cell field.

    1. @Dan,
      Thanks for sharing some of the history there.
      I also find the consistency of reprogramming to make iPSCs to be remarkable. So many other stem cell-related reports are not reproducible in that kind of way. Even some other real stuff is not so easy to replicate.

  2. If I remember correctly, Dr. Verfaille’s work was widely used as reason hESC cells were not needed. I appreciate this artcle immensely– thanks, Dr. Paul

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