In a move that has shocked Japan's scientific community, stem cell researcher Professor Teruhiko Wakayama has reneged on findings previously heralded as a 'breakthrough.'
The study, focused on the Stimulus-Triggered Acquisition of Pluripotency - or STAP - method, posited that stem cells could be made by taking regular cells from the body and treating them with an acid bath to essentially 'reprogram' the cells to return to their embryonic state - a relatively simple process . One of the study's co-authors, Haruko Obokata, became an overnight sensation in her native Japan as a result of the study. With Wakayama casting a pall on the findings, however, it's no longer clear if the breakthrough was as significant as initially though.
"When conducting the experiment, I believed it was absolutely right," said Wakayama. "But now that many mistakes have emerged, I think it is best to withdraw the research paper once and, using correct data and correct pictures, to prove once again the paper is right. If it turns out to be wrong, we would need to make it clear why a thing like this happened."
The STAP method is notable for its application of 'stress' to cells, with the developed cells responding to the stimulus by retreating to an earlier iteration of itself. It remains unknown why this may be the case, though one theory posits that it's an evolutionary phenomenon that realized as a survival mechanism.
Looking specifically at the images included in the study - now thought to be unreliable - Wakayama has claimed that verifying the findings after the study was published has proved difficult, and does not. The Riken institute, the government agency where Obokata works, has started proceedings for an independent investigation into the findings, noting that they have: "launched an independent inquiry into the content of the papers, conducted by a panel of experts from within and outside Riken, and will publish the results of this inquiry as soon as it is concluded."
However, the agency remains optimistic that the findings are in fact both verifiable and correct. "We believe the basis of the paper won't be affected at this point," said a Riken spokesperon. "But we will continue our investigation."
Nevertheless, Wakayama is sticking to his guns. "We wrote the papers because we thought it could be easily reproduced," he said to the Wall Street Journal. "But there is no value in it if the technique cannot be replicated."
The original study, titled Stimulus-triggered fate conversion of somatic cells into pluripotency, was originally published online in scientific journal Nature on January 29 2014.