The RIKEN Centre for Developmental Biology in Kobe, still reeling from a much-publicized instance of scientific misconduct, weighed an independent committee’s recommendation that it dissolve. The RIKEN, however, ultimately rejected this recommendation, even though another center was expected to take the RIKEN’s place. Instead, the RIKEN will be renamed and reduced in size.
The RIKEN’s reputation suffered when a pair of stem cell studies had to be retracted. These studies, which had been published last January in Nature, purported to show that physical stresses, such as acidic conditions, could induce somatic cells to pluripotency without resort to transcription factors or nuclear transfer. This approach, called stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency, or STAP, could not be replicated by other scientists. Also, the papers were found to contain plagiarized passages and mislabeled figures.
An investigation subsequently led the RIKEN to announce, in April, that the study’s leader, Haruko Obokata, Ph.D., was guilty of scientific misconduct. Also, Yoshiki Sasai, M.D., Ph.D., one of the scientists who participated in the studies, was found dead earlier this month. He apparently committed suicide due to stress caused by media attention.
Nonetheless, stem cell researchers from around the world voiced the opinion that closing the center was unwarranted and might even harm stem cell research more than the original scandal. The outcry helped convince Japanese officials to maintain the RIKEN, albeit at a smaller scale. Also, the RIKEN’s director, Masatoshi Takeichi, Ph.D., is expected to leave his post.