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Poor management behind research misconduct at Kyoto University's iPS institute

From left, professor Shinya Yamanaka, director of Kyoto University's Center for iPS Cell Research and Application (CiRA), and university vice presidents Nagahiro Minato and Katsumi Yamamoto are seen bowing to apologize for research misconduct by a CiRA researcher, in Kyoto's Sakyo Ward, on Jan. 22, 2018. (Mainichi)

KYOTO -- A report that a researcher at a Kyoto University stem cell research center, headed by Nobel Prize laureate Shinya Yamanaka, falsified and fabricated data on a paper has uncovered poor management at Japan's leading institution on regenerative medicine.

"What we have been doing here was not enough. I strongly regret and feel remorse (about the misconduct)," said Yamanaka, head of Kyoto University's Center for iPS Cell Research and Application (CiRA), during a news conference on Jan. 22. "We'll work as a team on restoring the public's trust as soon as possible."

Kohei Yamamizu, a specially appointed assistant professor at CiRA, who engaged in data falsification and fabrication, assumed the position in November 2014 on a fixed term which is to expire in March this year. He has reportedly said during an in-house probe that he wanted to "make the paper look good."

CiRA, the research institute for induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells for which Yamanaka won the Nobel Prize for medicine in 2012, has a strict research management system to prevent wrongdoings. All researchers get their notes on experiments checked at least once every three months and if a research paper is to be published, the researcher must submit research materials such as original data and images. Kyoto University vice president Nagahiro Minato stated that Yamanaka's center "has been taking appropriate measures even when compared to other departments at the university."

At the same time, the center had only made its researchers submit study materials, but failed to check their contents in detail. In reality, the submission rate of such data was not 100 percent. Yamamizu had a submission rate of 86 percent for his notes, but he had submitted data and images for the paper in question at a significantly high rate.

However, when Yamanaka checked Yamamizu's notes for the first time after the issue surfaced, he thought they were insufficient.

"If we had looked into them thoroughly, we might have been able to prevent fabrication and falsification to a great extent," Yamanaka said. "I thought we had been strict, but the management system lost its substance."

CiRA plans to have all researchers submit all their study notes and thoroughly manage their research activities including the contents of their notes to prevent a recurrence. Since a research project contains massive volumes of original data, however, it is difficult to check everything. Kyoto University vice president Minato said, "In the end, it comes down to the individual researcher (on how to treat data)."

Meanwhile, there were 10 co-authors for the problematic paper, including a professor at a lab where Yamamizu belonged, but none of them noticed the misconduct.

"The field of life science has become highly sophisticated and not all data can be checked by all authors contributing to a paper. I don't think we'll be able to detect this kind of misconduct," Yamanaka stated with a grim look.

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