Embattled researcher Haruko Obokata, whose findings on a new method to create pluripotent cells have been called into doubt, offered to retract her doctoral dissertation following allegations she may have copied and pasted parts from other documents.
Obokata, 30, who heads a research unit at the Riken Center for Developmental Biology in Kobe, told Tokyo’s Waseda University in an e-mail that she wants to withdraw the paper she submitted in English in 2011, sources said.
Waseda University officials said only the university can withdraw a doctoral dissertation.
Obokata’s Ph.D. thesis explored finding stem cells with pluripotency from within animals and had nothing to do with the creation of STAP (stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency) cells, which she announced in the scientific journal Nature in January.
Experts pointed out that Obokata possibly copied and pasted passages on stem cells from the U.S. National Institutes of Health website as well as a bibliography from a paper that Taiwanese researchers published in a medical journal in 2010.
Waseda University is investigating the allegations.
In an interim report released March 14, an investigatory committee set up by the Riken national research institute also said several images in the Nature articles were identical to those included in Obokata’s Ph.D. thesis.
Waseda University officials said when the university withdraws a doctoral dissertation, both the degree and the thesis are rescinded simultaneously. Riken officials said a scientist can work at the research institute without a degree.
At a news conference March 14, Riken officials admitted to “serious flaws” in the pair of Nature articles, which were initially touted as a major breakthrough in life sciences and made Obokata an instant rising star in scientific circles in Japan.
Bloggers and scientists have since pointed out possible use of duplicated images in different contexts and suspected plagiarism of text in the articles, for which Obokata was the lead author.
The articles said strong external stresses, such as a weak acid bath, could transform lymphocyte cells from young mice into pluripotent cells, which can develop into different body organs and tissues, opening up possibilities in areas such as regenerative medicine.
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