'Breakthrough' stem cell study retracted

Brian King7/16/14

By Miriam Falco, CNN


(CNN) -- It was hailed as a fast, easy, inexpensive and uncontroversial way to produce stem cells.

Scientists took a skin cell and coaxed it into acting like an embryo, producing embryonic-like stem cells that could theoretically be turned into any cell in the body. What was described as a "breakthrough" is how these cells were coaxed -- by placing them in an acidic bath.

The process was developed primarily by researchers at the Riken Center for Developmental Biology in Japan.

But five months after their studies were published in the journal Nature, researchers are retracting the results.

"Several critical errors have been found in our article," they write in their retraction, which the journal published Wednesday.

An investigation into the studies was started by the Riken Center in February. The institution said its investigators "categorized some of the errors as misconduct."

This is not a complete surprise. One of the co-authors of the study called for a retraction in March, because he questioned some of the data that were used in the experiments, which led to the creation of so-called STAP cells (or stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency cells).

In an editorial accompanying the retraction, Nature said that "errors were found in the figures, parts of the methods descriptions were found to be plagiarized, and early attempts to replicate the work failed."

The investigation found that data supposedly representing different cells and different embryos in the study were actually describing the same cells and the same embryos.

"All co-authors of both papers have finally concluded that they cannot stand behind the papers, and have decided to retract them," according to Nature.