Shinya Yamanaka revolutionized the Stem Cell field in 2006 by demonstrating that the introduction of four transcription factors into a differentiated cell was sufficient to revert the cell to a pluripotent state, termed induced Pluripotent Stem Cells, or iPSCs. In terms of understanding disease mechanisms, one could now take skin cells from a patient with a genetic neurodegenerative disease and produce neurons that can be studied in vitro. In terms of treating disease, the hope is, for example, that one can produce beta cells from skin cells of a Type I diabetic individual for transplantation.
For this work, Yamanaka was awarded the 2012 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, along with John Gurdon. Since then, the push has been to further define and refine the factors that can induce pluripotency.
In January of 2014, two papers were published by scientists at the prestigious RIKEN research center in Japan “demonstrating” stress (acid bath or physical pressure) could achieve the same result as genetic manipulation in reverting differentiated cells to pluripotency. The excitement of this finding was soon dampened as errors were found in the figures, methods were plagiarized, and attempts to replicate the work were unsuccessful. This past week, both manuscripts were retracted because the authors have concluded that they cannot stand behind the work.
We asked our own Dr. Peter Hornsby, a Professor in the Department of Physiology and an investigator in the Barshop Institute that uses iPSCs in his research for his thoughts on the impact of this retraction. “Fortunately, the iPS cell field is now mature and there are many published, well-tested techniques for generating iPSCs. If this unfortunate set of events had happened earlier in the field’s development, it would have set the whole area of research back several years until people figured out what really works and what doesn’t.”
Interestingly, the papers are to be watermarked to indicate their retraction, but will remain on Nature’s website. They believe it is important to leave them there (in effigy, of sorts) so as to not rewrite history and allow others to learn from these episodes. Please comment below to share your thoughts and participate in the discussion on this controversial subject. Read more here.