Data falsification scandal in iPS research triggers concerns in Japan

Updated 2018-01-24 11:26:01 Xinhua

A data falsification scandal in Japan's renowned iPS research revealed recently has triggered concerns among scientists over the possible damage to reputation of the country's scientific research.

Kyoto University, one of the top universities in Japan, said on Monday that a researcher at its iPS institute falsified key data in a paper published on a scientific journal last year.

Kohei Yamamizu, assistant professor at the university, falsified all major figures in a paper on iPS published on scientific journal Stem Cell Reports last year, according to Kyoto University.

Yamamizu claimed in the paper that he had succeeded in producing brain tissue using iPS cells.

Nobel Prize laureate Shinya Yamanaka, who headed the university's iPS center, told a press conference that the paper's conclusion was affected by the falsification as the questionable figures served as "the foundation of the paper."

He apologized for not being able to prevent the falsification, saying that he will take necessary measures to prevent such incidents from happening again.

Scientists and media here, however, expressed concerns over the stains left by the scandal on the reputation of Japan's scientific research.

The misconduct "is something that shakes the people's trust in research activities and is extremely regrettable," Japan's Education Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi was quoted as saying on Tuesday.

Gao Fei, a former researcher at Kyoto University's iPS center, told Xinhua that he was shocked by the recent scandal.

"Since the scandal on STAP in 2014, researchers have been very careful to avoid such falsifications. I thought such misconducts would never happen again but they did, and in such a renowned university," he said.

Zhu Yafeng, general manager of biotech company ID Pharma in Japan, said that the recent scandal was in essence similar to the STAP scandal involving Haruko Obokata in 2014.

The cause of such scandals lies in the researchers' lack of integrity, he said.

The Japan Times, meanwhile, said Tuesday that unstable employment conditions faced by scientists are behind the seemingly endless string of research-related scandals in the nation in recent years.

Scientists on fixed term contracts are under enormous pressure to make achievements before their contract terms end, said the well-read newspaper.

The scandal followed a series of similar misconducts that shocked the Japanese scientific community in recent years.

In 2014, Haruko Obokata, a former Riken scientist, was accused of fabricating data and doctoring images for her papers on stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency or STAP. She was later stripped of her doctorate over the stem cell scandal, and one of her mentors committed suicide.

In 2017, two researchers at the University of Tokyo, including renowned scientist Yoshinori Watanabe, were found having falsified data in five papers published on prestigious international journals.

The falsification case found in iPS research field was particularly alarming, as Japan has attached much importance to its preeminent iPS research which is considered a major breakthrough for regenerative medicine, according to local media.

Japan's science ministry said in 2013 that it would invest 110 billion yen (around 1 billion U.S. dollars) in regenerative medicine research in the next 10 years.

Kyoto University's iPS center is a core base for Japan's iPS research, with Yamanaka as head of the center. Yamanaka won the Nobel Prize in medicine in 2012 for his discovery on induced pluripotent stem cells, or iPS cells.

Kyoto University said that it has asked the journal's publisher to retract the paper and will punish those involved in the data falsification.

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