KYOTO--The Harvard University professor who served as adviser to Haruko Obokata, the embattled young scientist at the center of a research controversy, insisted that her breakthrough work with stem cells remains valid and even would welcome her return to the Ivy League school.
Charles Vacanti, an anesthesiology professor, supervised Obokata, 30, when she studied at Harvard Medical School.
Obokata was the lead author of a pair of articles that appeared in the British science journal Nature in late January. The articles described the process for a new stem cell mechanism known as "stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency" (STAP). Vacanti was one of the co-authors of those articles.
He was in Japan to attend the joint meeting of the World Association for Bronchology and Interventional Pulmonology and the International Bronchoesophagology Society, which is being held at the Kyoto International Conference Center through April 16.
According to a participant who attended Vacanti's lecture on April 15, the Harvard professor said that corrections had already been submitted to address the questions about the images used in the Nature articles, and that the mix-up had no effect on the conclusion of the articles. Vacanti said that he was certain that STAP cells existed.
Obokata heads a research unit at the Riken Center for Developmental Biology in Kobe. The Riken research institute issued a report in April that accused her of fabricating and doctoring illustrations in her research papers.
Obokata apologized April 9 at a news conference in Osaka for a number of minor lapses in her articles, but said there was no malicious intent involved.
Obokata has filed a formal complaint with Riken about its investigation report.
Vacanti has consistently stood by his former student. This is the first time he has spoken publicly about the STAP cell issue in Japan.
Because of the huge interest in the issue, media representatives were restricted from entering the hall where Vacanti gave his speech. Security guards were posted at the entrance.
According to one male participant, Vacanti utilized slides to illustrate his lecture. He rejected the claim that Obokata committed any wrongdoing, and said she had made only simple mistakes.
He compared her errors to not being able to enter one's hotel room after entering the wrong access code three times and having to ask staff to open the door.
Vacanti also said that Obokata would always be welcome to return to Boston to continue her research at Harvard Medical School.
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