Japan's Riken mulls criminal charges against disgraced researcher Obokata

SINGAPORE--In the wake of a report that found serious errors in what was considered breakthrough work in stem cells, Japan's Riken Institute has fired the lead researcher retroactively and is considering criminal charges and an attempt to get her to repay her research support. Others involved were reprimanded or otherwise disciplined, Riken said in a news conference.

A spokesperson said the government-supported institute was considering whether to file a criminal complaint against Haruko Obokata--whose published findings received global attention before they were found to be based on falsified material--alleging theft and to have her repay the $125,000 and other costs of her research.

Haruko Obokata

Obokata was the lead researcher of two published studies claiming creation of pluripotent stem cells in the laboratory by stimulating mature cells to behave as embryonic ones capable of becoming any tissue. Her work was considered a breakthrough until questions were raised; she and others were suspended and the institute attempted unsuccessfully to replicate her work.

A report on an in-house investigation released recently suggested the Obokata-led research was falsified intentionally; it contained no original data to support the figures in the studies that contained many errors and that the team "overlooked or ignored the lack of experiment records and original data, and the presence of clearly suspect images."

Although Obokata resigned from her position in December, the institute wanted the record to show she was fired for her behavior. She has 10 days to appeal, but was not expected to do so.

In the wake of the scandal, one researcher committed suicide, the head of the Advanced Biotechnology Center and co-author was suspended and later said he would resign. The head of the center where the work was carried out was reprimanded by the institute's disciplinary committee.

- read the Japan Times article
- get The Asahi Shimbun's take
- and here's the Riken Investigation Report (PDF)