Various senior RIKEN researchers (Niwa and Shinich Aizawa)

Various errors became apparent in the papers, as well as
evidence of plagiarism. Scientists were consistently unable to reproduce
Obokata’s work, which aroused suspicion within the scientific community. Obokata’s
employer, RIKEN, launched an inquiry into the work and found many glaring
issues. It became clear that certain data was fabricated and poorly managed,
and that the research had not been properly supervised or recorded. Figures had
been replicated and doctored, leading to RIKEN finding Obokata guilty of two
cases of research misconduct. Her subsequent appeal was rejected, and she was
advised to retract both of her STAP-related papers. The papers were retracted
from Nature in July 2014. After
Obokata agreed to the retraction, further evidence of misconduct emerged, following
genetic analysis. The STAP cells ‘produced’ in the lab did not match the mice
which they were reported to have come from. It seemed Obokata had simply
relabelled embryonic stem cells which were completely unrelated to the research.

 

The co-authors of the paper were also investigated, with
the exception of Hitoshi Niwa, whose involvement was regarded as commencing too
late in the research to warrant inquiry. Yoshiki Sasai and Teruhiko Wakayama
were cleared of any misconduct, but were accused of failure to clarify data and
properly supervise Obokata. Both scientists issued letters of apology, in which
Sasai restated that he firmly believed in STAP. Indeed, his belief in the
theory was unwavering. Following his tragic suicide in August 2014, he left a
note for Obokata, which according to Japan
Times encouraged her to ‘be sure to reproduce STAP cells.’ His suicide
occurred following a period of hospitalisation and counselling, due to stress
and depression surrounding the scandal.

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Obokata was asked to assist senior RIKEN researchers (Niwa
and Shinich Aizawa) in replicating her STAP experiments. This time, she was
heavily supervised, and video recording was utilised in the lab. Many
scientists still doubted the validity of her claims. For example, Alan Trounson
(former director of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine) cast
doubt on the use of acidic solutions to reprogram cells. He observed that there
are many acidic sites in the human body, where pluripotent cells are not found.
He claimed that ‘if the cells would respond this way… we’d have a lot of
problems.’ Indeed, Obokata and her team struggled to replicate the original
results of her research, and admitted defeat in December 2014, prompting
Obkata’s resignation.