Haruko Obokata (小保方 晴子 Obokata Haruko, born 1983) is a former stem-cell biologist and research unit leader at Japan's Laboratory for Cellular Reprogramming, Riken Center for Developmental Biology. She claimed to have developed a radical and remarkably easy way to make stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency (STAP) cells that could be grown into tissue for use anywhere in the body. Riken, however, eventually launched an investigation in response to allegations of irregularities in images appearing in several articles she authored, including the paper announcing the discovery of STAP cells. The ensuing scandal in 2014 over STAP cells has since become one of the world's best-known scientific frauds alongside the Schön scandal and Hwang Woo-suk's cloning experiments.
|Alma mater||Waseda University|
|Known for||STAP cells|
|Fields||Stem cell research|
|Thesis||Isolation of pluripotent adult stem cells discovered from tissues derived from all three germ layers (2011 (revoked in 2015))|
|Doctoral advisor||Satoshi Tsuneda|
Early life and educationEdit
Obokata was born in Matsudo, Chiba, Japan, in 1983. She attended Toho Senior High School, which is attached to Toho University, and graduated from Waseda University. At Waseda University, Obokata undertook undergraduate studies in the Department of Applied Chemistry, within the School of Science and Engineering, earning a Bachelor of Science in 2006, and graduate studies in the Graduate School of Advanced Science and Engineering, earning a Master of Science in applied chemistry in 2008.
After completing her master's, Obokata went on to study stem cells and regenerative medicine at the Institute of Advanced Biomedical Engineering and Science, a cooperative research and education facility operated with Tokyo Women's Medical University. She then undertook research at Harvard Medical School in Boston under Charles Vacanti for two years before returning to Waseda University to complete her Ph.D. in engineering, again, from the Graduate School of Advanced Engineering and Science in 2011. According to an Asahi Shimbun news report, Obokata had offered to retract her doctoral dissertation following allegations that she may have copied and pasted some segments of her dissertation from publicly available documents posted in the U.S. National Institute of Health website.
In October 2014, an investigative panel appointed by Waseda University gave Obokata one year to revise her Ph.D dissertation or lose her degree. One year later, Waseda University announced that it was revoking Obokata's Ph.D.
Obokata became a guest researcher at the Riken Center for Developmental Biology in 2011, and she was appointed as head of the Lab for Cellular Reprogramming in 2013. In 2014, she published two papers in the journal Nature.
- Obokata, Haruko; Wakayama, Teruhiko; Sasai, Yoshiki; et al. (2014). "Stimulus-triggered fate conversion of somatic cells into pluripotency". Nature. 505 (7485): 641–647. doi:10.1038/nature12968. PMID 24476887.
- Obokata, Haruko; Sasai, Yoshiki; Niwa, Hitoshi; Vacanti, Charles A.; Andrabi, Munazah; Takata, Nozomu; Tokoro, Mikiko; Terashita, Yukari; Yonemura, Shigenobu; Wakayama, Teruhiko (January 30, 2014). "Bidirectional developmental potential in reprogrammed cells with acquired pluripotency". Nature. Nature. 505 (7485): 676–680. Bibcode:2014Natur.505..676O. doi:10.1038/nature12969. PMID 24476891.
Within a few weeks of being published in Nature, questions were raised about the veracity of Obokata's papers. Professor Teruhiko Wakayama, a senior author of the Nature articles, proposed retracting the papers and re-submitting them if the findings could be reproduced. The Japanese government affiliated research institute Riken also launched an investigation into the issue. Stem cell critics also noted that the images in the published articles are very similar to those published in Obokata's doctoral thesis, which were from a quite different project than the Nature publications. On April 1, Riken announced that it had found Obokata guilty of scientific misconduct on two of the six charges initially brought against her. The Riken investigators reached the following conclusion:
In manipulating the image data of two different gels and using data from two different experiments, Dr. Obokata acted in a manner that can by no means be permitted. This cannot be explained solely by her immaturity as a researcher. Given the poor quality of her laboratory notes it has become clearly evident that it will be extremely difficult for anyone else to accurately trace or understand her experiments, and this, too, is considered a serious obstacle to healthy information exchange. Dr. Obokata’s actions and sloppy data management lead us to the conclusion that she sorely lacks, not only a sense of research ethics, but also integrity and humility as a scientific researcher.
In July 2014, Obokata was allowed to join Riken's efforts to verify her original results under monitoring by a third party. She tried to replicate her own study using genetically manipulated mouse spleen cells that glow green if a gene indicative of pluripotency is activated. She failed to reproduce the ‘STAP cell’ to back up her claimed discovery.
In 2016, Obokata's book 'Ano hi' (あの日- 'That Day') was published by Kodansha, who considered it 'an important record by someone whose side of the story has not yet been heard', and saying '“We think it’s meaningful to publish the views of Ms. Obokata herself to investigate the causes of confusion over the STAP cells”'. In this account of the controversy, Obokata relates 'her association with, and then estrangement from, onetime boss Teruhiko Wakayama, a former Riken researcher who now teaches at Yamanashi University', asserting that 'crucial parts of the STAP experiments were handled only by Wakayama' and alleging that 'he changed his accounts of how the STAP cells were produced.' Claiming to have received the cells used in the experiments from Wakayama, Obokata directs suspicions at him instead.
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- Otake, Tomoko (January 27, 2016). "Obokata breaks silence, suggests colleague bears blame for STAP debacle". Retrieved July 28, 2019 – via Japan Times Online.