Video surveillance to check any STAP cell experiments by Obokata

Any experiments to verify the existence of STAP cells at the hands of Riken unit leader Haruko Obokata will be monitored by video cameras, a senior Riken official told the Mainichi Shimbun on June 25.

Masatoshi Takeichi, director at the Riken Center for Developmental Biology (CDB), outlined plans to conduct experiments to verify the existence of stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency (STAP) cells in connection with controversial papers authored by Obokata and other researchers.

"The suspicions surrounding the STAP cell papers have not been decisive (in denying the existence of STAP cells). We'd like to determine whether STAP cells really exist or not through experiments at the hands of Obokata herself," Takeichi said.

Currently, a team of CDB researchers have been conducting verification experiments with Obokata in attendance. She has given advice but has not been directly involved in the experiments. Obokata has attended the experiments on condition that her "primary physician gives permission," according to Takeichi.

Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Hakubun Shimomura has already endorsed Obokata's participation in verification experiments. Riken President Ryoji Noyori has also supported her participation, saying, "There would be no settlement of arguments (without her participation)." The Riken board of directors is expected to make a final decision on whether to allow Obokata to be involved.

If her participation is officially given the green light and she succeeds in creating what appear to be STAP cells, the following steps will be made: 1) the content of the experiment will be reviewed with Takeichi and others in attendance, with video monitoring of the entire process under strict scrutiny that includes locking the doors to the experiment room and cell culture devices. 2) The experiment will be reproduced by Riken researchers who have learned the process from Obokata. 3) Research groups from outside Riken will also be asked to participate in the experiment to reproduce the cells.

If Obokata fails to create STAP cells within a year, the experiments will be terminated. In the verification experiments currently under way, the conditions for a successful creation of STAP cells are to create STAP cells by soaking mouse lymphocyte cells in a mild acidic liquid and confirming their versatility -- that the cells can develop into various types of tissue in mice.

Akira Shinohara, professor at Osaka University and director at the Molecular Biology Society of Japan, raised questions about the way experiments are now being conducted.

"It comes as a surprise that Obokata has already been attending experiments," he said. "It undermines fairness to allow her to be present without announcing the fact. The progress of the verification experiments under way and the reason for her attendance should be disclosed.

"Obokata shouldn't be taking new steps such as participating in experiments, before fulfilling her accountability over the suspicions surrounding her papers," he added.

June 26, 2014(Mainichi Japan)