Head of STAP cell panel resigns amid allegations over his own paper

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- The head of an investigative panel at the state-backed Riken institute that found one of its scientists guilty of research misconduct over controversial stem cell papers resigned as panel chairman on Friday amid allegations that his own research paper contains falsifications.

Riken began a preliminary investigation into the allegations, a move likely to affect the appeal process initiated by the accused scientist, Haruko Obokata, who was judged by the panel to have fabricated and falsified data in the papers on so-called STAP cells.

Shunsuke Ishii, a senior scientist who heads Riken's Molecular Genetics Laboratory, said on his lab's website that in a paper published in the cancer journal Oncogene in 2008 some images had been cut and pasted so their order would match the explanations given in the text.

He was one of the principal authors of the paper on cancer genes.

Ishii said he apologizes for causing people to develop "doubts" about the paper, but noted that permission has already been obtained from the journal's editor to make corrections.

The senior scientist offered to step down as panel chairman after allegations surfaced on the Internet over the images showing gene analyses in the paper. On Friday, Riken accepted his resignation offer and chose Jun Watanabe, a fellow panel member and a lawyer, as his successor, according to an official.

In the papers published in the journal Nature in January, Obokata and her co-authors claimed the discovery of a new and simpler way to produce mouse stem cells, which they named stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency cells, or STAP cells.

Ishii's investigative panel concluded in a report announced April 1 that Obokata, a researcher at the Riken Center for Developmental Biology, falsified data in the papers by cutting and pasting an image.

The panel said Obokata evidently created a composite image to "articulate" the outcome of an experiment, and that it was therefore an "act of research misconduct corresponding to falsification."

Obokata has disputed the conclusions.

After reports that Ishii resigned as head of the Riken panel, a lawyer representing Obokata said Ishii should stay on if he does not find what he did in his paper constitutes research misconduct.

"If he does not determine his own case as fabrication even though he did something similar to what Ms. Obokata did, I want to ask him to stay on the panel and reinvestigate her case based on his own views," the lawyer, Hideo Miki, told reporters in Osaka.

Also Friday, Teruo Kishi, head of a Riken panel launched after Obokata's case to devise measures to prevent similar cases of research misconduct, said the allegations leveled at Ishii could damage the authority of the investigative panel that looked into her case.

"Replacing a panel chairman is a big deal," Kishi said in Tokyo. If an investigation finds that Ishii's conduct was problematic, "that would be a big problem for the authority of the investigative committee."

April 25, 2014(Mainichi Japan)

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