Japanese scientist resigns over stem cell scandal

2014-12-19 13:53
Riken institute reseacher Haruko Obokata at the centre of a stem cell research scandal. (Jiji Press, AFP)

Riken institute reseacher Haruko Obokata at the centre of a stem cell research scandal. (Jiji Press, AFP)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Tokyo - A researcher embroiled in a fabrication scandal that has rocked Japan's scientific establishment said on Friday that she would resign after failing to reproduce results of what was once billed as a ground-breaking study on stem cells.

Haruko Obokata said she was dismayed that new laboratory tests have not been able to repeat her experiments, which she had claimed showed the successful conversion of an adult cell into a stem cell-like state.

"I am keenly aware of my responsibility for troubling a number of people because of my inexperience," Obokata said in a statement.

"I even can't find the words for an apology," said Obokata, who has avoided media exposure since her last news conference in April.

Her resignation came as Japan's Riken Institute formally announced that so-called "STAP" cells cannot be recreated, apparently drawing a line under the controversial study.

"We have conducted verification experiments but can't repeat the STAP phenomenon," team leader Shinichi Aizawa told a nationally broadcast news conference.

"As a result, we will terminate the verification experiments," he said, cutting short verification tests that had been originally scheduled to last until March.


Riken in January trumpeted Obokata's simple method to re-programme adult cells to work like stem cells - precursors that are capable of developing into any other cell in the human body.

Her work was published in the international journal Nature.

The study was top news in Japan, where the photogenic and Harvard-trained Obokata became a phenomenon.

Journalists were beguiled by eccentricities that included her insistence on wearing a housewife's apron in the laboratory, instead of a white coat.

But media attention soon grew into scepticism as doubts emerged about her papers on Stimulus-Triggered Acquisition of Pluripotency (STAP).

Mistakes were discovered in some data published in two papers, photograph captions were found to be misleading, and the work itself could not be repeated by other scientists, leading to accusations the data had been doctored.


Obokata, who asserted that she created STAP cells some 200 times, has been trying since July, in tandem with independent teams, to reproduce her own results.

But her experiments were carried out under strict video surveillance while inspectors monitored test procedures.

"I worked hard for three months to show significant results... but I'm so exhausted now and extremely puzzled," Obokata said in the statement.

The Britain-based Nature withdrew the flawed study after Obokata agreed in June to retract the papers.

As the scandal deepened, Obokata's mentor and co-author, stem cell scientist Yoshiki Sasai, hanged himself, further shaking Japan's scientific establishment.

Despite her resignation, Obokata may face disciplinary punishment due to her alleged fabrication, officials said.

Riken has pledged to restructure its Centre for Developmental Biology where the scandal took place.


While Riken stopped short of declaring her claim was groundless, the government categorically denied it.

"Wrongness based on inexperience cannot be accepted in science," science and technology minister Hakubun Shimomura told a separate news conference.

"It has been confirmed that STAP cells do not exist," he said.

Ryoji Noyori, head of Riken, said the institute accepted her resignation "as we are concerned about an increase in the weight on her mind”.

“She is a young person with a future. I hope she will positively take a step toward her new life.”

Obokata's lawyer reportedly said she still believes that she had succeeded in producing the "dream" cells.

Read more on:    japan  |  stem cells  |  research

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24


WATCH: Man films himself going down water slide upside down as things go very wrong…

What is at first an exciting tummy-turning adventure stunt, quickly turns into a scarily bad idea caught on camera. Take a look:


You won't want to miss...

WATCH: Conor McGregor: Notorious the trailer
Best date night restaurants in South Africa
WATCH: Ryan Reynolds offers fans a free tattoo in new Deadpool 2 teaser
Should you date your co-worker?
Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.