Top adult stem cell paper scandal

by Alexey Bersenev on October 9, 2008 · 3 comments

in under discussion

Oh god, we got a new stem cell scandal yesterday – this time, in the adult stem cell field.

In 2002, a high-profile paper from Catherine Verfaillie’s group, based at the University of Minnesota was published in Nature journal. The impact of this study on the public and scientific communities was tremendous, because authors claimed that they isolate adult bone marrow stem cells with embryonic stem cell properties. They were able to maintain this “cell line” more than one year without malignant transformation. These magic cells were called “MAPC“. After that, a few more papers came up from this group, describing a similar population in detail in human and rodent bone marrow.

Other researchers were not able to reproduce this magic and by some reasons New Scientist magazine began investigation of papers and figures about MAPC came up from the group. The magazine’s reporter raised some concerns according to pictures and methods of MAPC isolation, as described in a few papers. New Scientist called Minnesota University and Nature to solve those issues.

I won’t get into all the details of the findings from this investigation, which forced Verfaillie to correct and clarify some issues, I’ll just tell you the final result – one of the top discoveries in adult stem cell research is fake and was falsified.

famous picture from Nature paper: in reality none of adult bone marrow stem cells can divide like that.

Now an expert panel called in by the university to investigate has ruled that a PhD student on the team, Morayma Reyes, falsified data.

The panel cleared Verfaillie and the other authors on the papers of fraud. “I have initiated a number of additional oversight measures designed to further enhance the integrity of research and scientific publications coming from my lab,” Verfaillie, now at Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium told New Scientist. “I am confident that these measures will avoid the recurrence of a similar problem in the future.”
No action has been set against Reyes, who is now an assistant professor at the University of Washington, Seattle.

I’m so so disappointed about this shit. This case, as well as some others recent published stem cells fraud articles, disgraces the field and makes many people think that stem cells are not more than a collection of in vitro artifacts.

Stem-cell researcher guilty of falsifying data. New Scientist, Oct. 7, 2008
Guilty: stem cell researcher by the Scientist blog
Fake Data for Flexible Stem Cells; Funding Falling Flat for Stem-Cell Facility by the Niche blog

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Art October 12, 2008 at 4:46 am

unfortunately. but in the past tame was understandable that MAPS are controversial.

Once this is happenstance, twice – a trend, and three times already – pattern.

Hwang Woo-suk, Verfaillie, who is next?

//… may be stem cells do not exist in nature?


Alex October 15, 2008 at 7:58 am

seem like iPS gonna be the next :(


Alex October 15, 2008 at 6:00 pm

just to avoid confusion, I need to tell you that “Blood paper” will be retracted, but not “nature paper”. Only errors will be notice in Nature article.
more info –

Manipulated’ stem-cell paper faces retraction (Nature news):

The University of Minnesota has asked the journal Blood to retract a high-profile paper on adult stem cells following a university investigation. The paper reported that mesenchymal stem cells isolated from adult bone marrow could generate a surprising number of tissues (M. Reyes et al. Blood 98, 2615–2625; 2001), but other labs had trouble replicating that work.

However, the findings regarding Reyes cannot be released because of privacy laws. Reyes says that she made “honest unintentional errors”. – You (edit | delete)
Problematic images were also identified in a patent and in articles published by the Journal of Clinical Investigation and Nature. But the university did not find sufficient evidence of misconduct in these incidents. The University of Washington says it may decide to investigate Reyes.

some Q&A from New Scientist:
Anatomy of a stem cell controversy

Why did the group’s work come under official scrutiny?

Given the problems repeating the work, New Scientist started looking closely at the Minnesota team’s results in December 2005.

We found that six plots in the Nature paper, describing characteristic “marker” molecules carried by the cells, also appeared in a second paper in Experimental Hematology (vol 30, 896), where they were supposed to refer to cells isolated from different mice.

Were these results found to be falsified?

No. An inquiry held by the University of Minnesota, after New Scientist queried the results, ruled in October 2006 that the duplications were merely errors.

However, the inquiry also decided that the marker molecule results were in any case unreliable because of flaws in the way the experiments had been run. In February 2007, Verfaillie informed Nature of the problem, and the paper has since been corrected.

So where was the falsification?

In an earlier paper, published in Blood (vol 98, p 2615) in 2001. In March 2007, New Scientist noticed that images from this paper, documenting the presence of proteins as the stem cells developed into other types of cell, including those found in bone and cartilage, appeared in a patent granted in 2006, where they were supposed to represent different proteins.

One image, flipped through 180° and slightly altered, was also used twice in the Blood paper to describe the results of different experiments.

The University of Minnesota launched a second probe, which has now ruled that this and other images in the Blood paper were “altered in such a way that the manipulation misrepresented experimental data”. The investigating panel pinned the blame on Morayma Reyes, then a PhD student at Minnesota, who was the first to isolate MAPCs. She is now at the University of Washington in Seattle.

Was Reyes also responsible for the errors in the Nature paper?

No, those plots were compiled by another junior member of the team. Reyes was also not involved with the most exciting results in the Nature paper, including the chimera experiments.

Where does stem cell research stand now?

It seems clear that MAPCs are not as versatile as ESCs. In any case, biologists can now make a variety of adult cells behave like ESCs, using a genetic “reprogramming” technique pioneered by Shinya Yamanaka of Kyoto University in Japan (read our interview with Yamanaka).

If MAPCs aren’t equivalent to ESCs, what are they?

Most probably, they are a type of mesenchymal stem cell, which normally develop into tissues including bone, cartilage and fat.

Indeed, researchers with the biotech company Genzyme of Framingham, Massachusetts, have argued that MAPCs isolated using the Minnesota team’s methods are indistinguishable from other mesenchymal stem cells, based on studies of marker molecules and their ability to form other types of cell.


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