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RETRACTION URGED--Possibly Simpler and Faster Method of Creating Pluripotent Stem Cells Is Discovered

TEAM RESEARCHER ASKS FOR PAPER TO BE WITHDRAWN DUE TO LACK OF REPRODUCIBILITY. Breakthrough findings by Dr. Haruko Obokata (image) and colleagues at the RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology (CDB) in Japan look to upset the canonical views on the fundamental definitions of cellular differentiation and pluripotency. In a pair of reports published online on January 29, 2014 in Nature, Dr. Obokata shows that ordinary somatic cells from newborn mice can be stripped of their differentiation memory, reverting to a state of pluripotency in many ways resembling that seen in embryonic stem cells (ESCs) and induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs). The conversion process, which Obokata has named STAP (stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency), requires only that the cells be shocked with a dose of sublethal stress, such as low pH or mechanical force, in order to trigger a remarkable transformation, in which the cells shrink, lose the functional characteristics specific to their somatic cell type, and enter a state of stem cell-like pluripotency. Such STAP cells show all the hallmarks of pluripotency, and contribute to chimeric mice and germline transmission when injected into early stage embryos. Even more interestingly, STAP cells show a level of plasticity that exceeds that even of ESCs and iPSCs, in that they can give rise to cells of both embryonic and extraembryonic lineages; other pluripotent stem cells typically only generate embryonic lineage cells. STAP cells also differ from stem cells in their lower ability to proliferate in culture, but Dr. Obokata found that by adding different factors to STAP culture medium, she was able to cause them to transform into either ‘STAP stem cells,’ which behaved very much like embryonic stem cells, or a second form of stem cell capable of both generating extra-embryonic lineages and long-term culture. “It’s exciting to think about the new possibilities these findings open up, not only in areas like regenerative medicine, but perhaps in the study of cellular senescence and cancer as well,” says Dr. Obokata. “But the greatest challenge for me going forward will be to dig deeper into the underlying mechanisms, so that we can gain a deeper understanding of how differentiated cells can convert to such an extraordinarily pluripotent state.” This work was done in collaboration with Dr. Charles Vacanti’s lab at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard University; Dr. Masayuki Yamato’s lab at Tokyo Women’s Medical University, and the laboratories for Genomic Reprogramming, Pluripotent Stem Cell Studies, and Organogenesis and Neurogenesis at the RIKEN CDB. The discovery was widely reported in the world’s major media. A New York Times story on the discovery said that the technique, which was performed only with cells from mice, might turn out to be a quicker and easier source of multipurpose stem cells than methods now in use. The Times story also included the following quote Dr. Robert Lanza, a stem-cell scientist who was not involved in the work. Dr. Lanza, who is chief scientific officer of the biotechnology company Advanced Cell Technology, said the technique might also make it easier to clone animals or even people, raising ethical questions. “If reproducible in humans, this could be a paradigm changer,” Dr. Lana said, according to the Times. A Boston Globe story included a quote from Dr. Douglas Melton, co-director of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, who was not involved in then research. “It’s just a wonderful result; it’s almost like alchemy. It says one has found a way to reveal the hidden potential of cells with a relatively straightforward method.” Image shows Dr. Haruko Obokata describing her team’s stem cell breakthruough (Photo by Takuya Isayama). Please also see related videos provided in Riken press release. [Riken press release] [Nature abstract #1] [Nature abstract #2] [Nature News & Views abstract] [New York Times story] [The Independent story] [New Scientist story] [Boston Globe story] [Reuters story] [Wall Street Journal story] [The Telegraph story] [Science News story] [Harvard Gazette story] [Los Angeles Times story]