In Brief

Acid Stem Cell Treatment Study Comes Under Scrutiny

mouse fetus
The studies reported that the new method for making stem cells was used to create an entire mouse fetus. (Image credit: Haruko Obokata)

A widely publicized pair of studies that demonstrated a simple way to generate stem cells that could develop into body tissues or placenta has drawn skepticism over its credibility.

Two prominent papers published in the journal Nature in January revealed a method for reprograming mature mouse cells into an embryonic form merely by exposing them to acid or other forms of stress. The RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology, in Japan, is now investigating possible problems or duplications in the papers.

Embryonic stem cells have the ability to develop into any tissue of the body, and therefore offer a promising way to study conditions such as cancer and regenerate tissue. Until recently, reprogramming cells required tinkering with the cell's DNA, but the new studies suggested it could be done much more simply, by placing the cells in an acidic solution or squeezing them to stress the cells. The researchers called the resulting cells "STAP" (stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency) cells.

But several blogs are now suggesting the studies may contain duplicated images, and several other labs have failed to reproduce the study's results. However, the allegations of duplication have not been proven, and the investigation is ongoing.

Tanya Lewis
Staff Writer
Tanya was a staff writer for Live Science from 2013 to 2015, covering a wide array of topics, ranging from neuroscience to robotics to strange/cute animals. She received a graduate certificate in science communication from the University of California, Santa Cruz, and a bachelor of science in biomedical engineering from Brown University. She has previously written for Science News, Wired, The Santa Cruz Sentinel, the radio show Big Picture Science and other places. Tanya has lived on a tropical island, witnessed volcanic eruptions and flown in zero gravity (without losing her lunch!). To find out what her latest project is, you can visit her website.