In January 2014 Obokata, head of her laboratory at the Riken Centre for Developmental Biology, published two breakthrough articles in Nature. She and hercolleagues transformed the mouse blood cells into something similar toembryonic stem cells.
She put the blood cells in citric acid and waited forhalf an hour. After that, the cells were able to multiply abundantly and growinto any type of cell in the body. So the blood cells become pluripotent. Within days ofher two articles being published, disturbing allegations appeared in scienceblogs and on Twitter. She put images in her article which looked doctored and partsof her articles were copied from other paper.
(Rasko and Power, 2015) A figure,that showed electrophoresis gels, was problematic. In a diagram one lane wasswitched to another. She made the switch because the other lane was clearer. Accordingto a committee, the switch was intentionally misleading manipulation.
Obokataused a figure in one of her articles from her doctoral thesis that showed teratomacells which had a broad-ranging developmental capacity made by putting pressureon the membrane of the cells by pipette. However, in her article she said thatthe cells had been stressed by acid. Obokata said that it was an unintentionalmistake. However, the committee noticed that the captions were different so themistake was intentional. (Cyranoski, 2014) Riken beganinvestigating and on the 1st of April, Obokata was found to be guilty due to scientificmisconduct.
Obokata apologised for all her mistakes but she still claimed thatSTAP (“stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency”) cells exist. Althoughher experimental procedure was simple, no one could repeat it. So those whotried to do it, asked Nature to retract Obokata’s articles. In June, Obokataalso asked Nature to retract her articles. Subsequently, genetic analysisdemonstrated that the STAP cells are not from those mice which were mentionedin the article. People found out that her STAP cells were just embryonic stemcells which were taken from the freezer and relabelled. (Cyranoski, 2014) Yoshiki Sasai,who was Obokata’s supervisor, was one of those who has been criticised.
Sasaiwas overwhelmed with shame. In early August, after a month in hospital fordepression, Sasai committed suicide. She left behind three farewell notes. Oneof them was addressed to Obokata and it asked Obokata to reproduce STAP cells.Riken gave an opportunity to Obokata and her team to make Sasai’s requestpossible. Obokata and her team tried to reproduce STAP cells for eight monthsand in December, they admitted that they cannot create STAP cells again.
Obokata was baffled by the fact that they could not reproduce STAP cells andObokata resigned. In the end of the year, Riken wrote a final report about thehappenings. The report said that Obokata had falsified and fabricated data soher STAP cells were actually embryonic stem cells and the swap was notaccidental, although there is not any proof that says the opposite.
(Rasko andPower, 2015)