April 2, 2014 6:18 am JST

Embattled lab to try growing STAP cells from scratch

KIYOSHI ANDO, Nikkei senior staff writer

TOKYO -- The government-backed Riken research institute will spend the next year trying to verify whether stem cells can actually be created using a technique that its scientists touted in papers that have come under fire.

     The cells in question are purportedly generated through a phenomenon called stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency, or STAP. But a failure to reproduce the experiments would not necessarily prove that STAP cells do not exist.

     Riken President Ryoji Noyori will personally lead the effort, with an interim report expected to come out in four months.

     Masatoshi Takeichi, director of Riken's Center for Developmental Biology, stressed in a news conference Tuesday that a conclusion on whether STAP cells exist has not been reached. The institute will work to create them from scratch and to conduct genetic analysis on purported STAP cells that already exist, Takeichi said.

     Records in the experiment notebooks are vague, so no one knows precisely what cells remain and which procedures were carried out on them. For this reason, studying cells already created is not expected to yield useful results. The verification will mostly entail trying to produce STAP cells from scratch based on the detailed procedures released March 5.

     "I would like to continue to wait for an examination of how the research papers were written and the results of efforts to reproduce the experiments," said Kyoto University professor Shinya Yamanaka, a pioneer in induced pluripotent stem cells, in a statement Tuesday.

     Numerous research reports have described the discovery of new stem cells that could turn into other cells in the bodies of mice and humans. But efforts to reproduce such experiments have not succeeded.

     In Tuesday's news conference, Riken officials appeared anxious to reproduce the STAP cells. Yet without taking the time to carefully review all procedures and data described in the papers, the institute will not be able to get to the bottom of the matter, experts warn.