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September 24, 2017

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Japan lab says stem cell research falsified, lead researcher deflects blame

TOKYO--Data in a widely heralded stem-cell research paper was falsified, a Japanese government-funded laboratory said Tuesday, as the lead researcher accused of the fabrication denied any wrongdoing.

The research from the Riken Center for Development Biology in Kobe, western Japan, had been hailed as a possible breakthrough for growing tissue to treat illnesses such as diabetes and Parkinson's disease using a simple lab procedure.

But significant discrepancies in research published in January in scientific journal Nature led a panel of scientists at Riken to conclude they stemmed from falsified data.

They said researcher Haruko Obokata, the lead author of the paper in Nature, had manipulated or falsified images of DNA fragments used in the research.

"The investigation committee has concluded that Ms. Obokata is responsible for manipulation and therefore for research malpractice," said Shunsuke Ishii, the Riken scientist who led the committee charged with investigating allegations the work was falsified.

Obokata, in a statement also issued through Riken, vehemently objected to the committee's findings.

"I was outraged and shocked by the committee's report," she said. "I cannot accept the finding, and I intend to make an appeal to Riken in coming days."

Juliette Savin, a spokeswoman for Riken, said that she could not comment on Obokata's employment status.

Last month, Riken's director Ryoji Noyori said misconduct by researchers would result in "strict disciplinary action as stipulated by our own regulations."

The institute said it would take months more to determine whether the stem cell findings are valid regardless of any questions about the data. Obokata asserts the findings are genuine.

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