In February, 2014, I blogged about a paper published in the journal Nature(Obokata, Wakayama, Sasai, Kojima, Vacanti,M., Niwa, Yamato and Vacanti, C.,Nature 505, 641-647 (30, January, 2014) doi:10.1038/nature12968) titled, “Stimulus-triggered fate conversion of somatic cells into pluripotency,” that discussed “cellular programming phenomenon, called stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency (STAP), which requires neither nuclear transfer nor the introduction of transcription factors.” The authors, from the Riken Center of Developmental Biology in Kobe, Japan, found that strong external stimuli such as acidic stress to adult cells cause reprogramming of cells such that they become stem cells, thus enabling them to evolve into organ-specific cells.
I commented that that the journal Nature is highly prestigious and demands rigorous data analysis and has a very low acceptance rate due to scrutinous evaluation by editors associated with the journal. Last week, buried in theWashington Post newspaper, I unearthed the following article: Japanese lab says study of stem cells used falsified data, an article written by the Associated Press. Apparently, the data in the publication was falsified. The lead researcher from the Japanese government- funded laboratory strongly denied any falsification of data.
As a follow-up to the Nature paper, significant discrepancies in the original research “led a panel of scientists at the Riken Center to conclude that the results of the study were obtained from falsified data. The panel “concluded that the lead author of the paper, Haruko Obokata, had manipulated or falsified images of DNA fragments used in the research.” However, the panel noted that the three co-authors of the papers had not falsified the data.
Should the falsified data be definitively noted to be true, the authors will be required to submit a retraction to the Nature journal. However, the damage has been done. Hope, for a cure or treatment of diseases such as diabetes, has once again been dashed for the moment.
The problem of falsified data published in prestigious journals is extremely serious and can lead to major roadblocks in medical treatment as well as destroy the reputation of a research team. Unfortunately, as most of the world’s population does not have access to the scientific journal, Nature, this retraction, unless publicized in non-professional media, might have gone unrecognized for some time. It is a huge blow to the medical community when a researcher publishes a paper with data that has been manipulated or falsified. The integrity of the scientific method has been compromised leading to mistrust within the general community.
To prove this point, there has been continued speculation about immunizations leading to autism throughout the world. This anxiety was initiated when a paper published in the British journal, Lancet, noted this association. The data was reevaluated and additional research conducted disproving this association. Yet, many families still maintain the truth of these results. Only recently, has theLancet retracted this paper. As such, millions of children are unvaccinated and are at risk for measles and other infectious diseases due to falsified data.
It is essential to build upon research that has been confirmed by additional research scientists in order to verify causation or association. Rigorous studies must be conducted as we have discussed before and evaluated for their veracity.
Take home message:
Sadly, even data and results that are published in prestigious journals must be verified and re-verified by different research teams in order to properly develop conclusions. Evidence based research must truly be evidence-based in order to amplify existing theories and treatments. Once again, we must be vigilant and not necessarily believe everything that is in writing!
PS: except my blogs.
Published On: April 11, 2014