Haruko Obokata

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Haruko Obokata
Born (1983-09-25) September 25, 1983 (age 36)
Alma materWaseda University
Known forSTAP cells
Scientific career
FieldsStem cell research
ThesisIsolation of pluripotent adult stem cells discovered from tissues derived from all three germ layers (2011 (revoked in 2015))
Doctoral advisorSatoshi Tsuneda[2]

Haruko Obokata (小保方 晴子, Obokata Haruko, born 1983) is a former stem-cell biologist and research unit leader at Japan's Laboratory for Cellular Reprogramming, Riken Center for Developmental Biology.[3][4] She claimed to have developed a radical and remarkably easy way to make stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency (STAP) cells that could be grown into tissue for use anywhere in the body.[5] Riken, however, eventually launched an investigation in response to allegations of irregularities in images appearing in several articles she authored, including the paper announcing the discovery of STAP cells.[6][7][8] The ensuing scandal in 2014 over STAP cells has since become one of the world's best-known scientific frauds alongside the Schön scandal and Hwang Woo-suk's cloning experiments.[9][10][11][12][13]

Early life and education[edit]

Obokata was born in Matsudo, Chiba, Japan, in 1983. She attended Toho Senior High School, which is attached to Toho University, and graduated from Waseda University. At Waseda University, Obokata undertook undergraduate studies in the Department of Applied Chemistry, within the School of Science and Engineering, earning a Bachelor of Science in 2006, and graduate studies in the Graduate School of Advanced Science and Engineering, earning a Master of Science in applied chemistry in 2008.

After completing her master's, Obokata went on to study stem cells and regenerative medicine at the Institute of Advanced Biomedical Engineering and Science, a cooperative research and education facility operated with Tokyo Women's Medical University. She then undertook research at Harvard Medical School in Boston under Charles Vacanti for two years before returning to Waseda University to complete her Ph.D. in engineering, again, from the Graduate School of Advanced Engineering and Science in 2011.[14][15] According to an Asahi Shimbun news report, Obokata had offered to retract her doctoral dissertation following allegations that she may have copied and pasted some segments of her dissertation from publicly available documents posted in the U.S. National Institute of Health website.[16]

In October 2014, an investigative panel appointed by Waseda University gave Obokata one year to revise her Ph.D dissertation or lose her degree.[17] One year later, Waseda University announced that it was revoking Obokata's Ph.D.[18]


Obokata became a guest researcher at the Riken Center for Developmental Biology in 2011, and she was appointed as head of the Lab for Cellular Reprogramming in 2013.[19][20] In 2014, she published two papers in the journal Nature.

  • Obokata, Haruko; Wakayama, Teruhiko; Sasai, Yoshiki; et al. (2014). "Stimulus-triggered fate conversion of somatic cells into pluripotency". Nature. 505 (7485): 641–647. doi:10.1038/nature12968. PMID 24476887.
  • Obokata, Haruko; Sasai, Yoshiki; Niwa, Hitoshi; Vacanti, Charles A.; Andrabi, Munazah; Takata, Nozomu; Tokoro, Mikiko; Terashita, Yukari; Yonemura, Shigenobu; Wakayama, Teruhiko (January 30, 2014). "Bidirectional developmental potential in reprogrammed cells with acquired pluripotency". Nature. Nature. 505 (7485): 676–680. Bibcode:2014Natur.505..676O. doi:10.1038/nature12969. PMID 24476891.


Within a few weeks of being published in Nature, questions were raised about the veracity of Obokata's papers. Professor Teruhiko Wakayama, a senior author of the Nature articles, proposed retracting the papers and re-submitting them if the findings could be reproduced. The Japanese government affiliated research institute Riken also launched an investigation into the issue. Stem cell critics also noted that the images in the published articles are very similar to those published in Obokata's doctoral thesis, which were from a quite different project than the Nature publications.[21] On April 1, Riken announced that it had found Obokata guilty of scientific misconduct on two of the six charges initially brought against her.[22] The Riken investigators reached the following conclusion:

In manipulating the image data of two different gels and using data from two different experiments, Dr. Obokata acted in a manner that can by no means be permitted. This cannot be explained solely by her immaturity as a researcher. Given the poor quality of her laboratory notes it has become clearly evident that it will be extremely difficult for anyone else to accurately trace or understand her experiments, and this, too, is considered a serious obstacle to healthy information exchange. Dr. Obokata’s actions and sloppy data management lead us to the conclusion that she sorely lacks, not only a sense of research ethics, but also integrity and humility as a scientific researcher.[23]

On June 4, 2014, Obokata agreed to retract both the papers published in Nature in early 2014.[24] Nature confirmed the retraction on July 2.[25][26]

In July 2014, Obokata was allowed to join Riken's efforts to verify her original results under monitoring by a third party. She tried to replicate her own study using genetically manipulated mouse spleen cells that glow green if a gene indicative of pluripotency is activated. She failed to reproduce the ‘STAP cell’ to back up her claimed discovery.[27]

On August 5, 2014, Obokata's mentor and co-author Yoshiki Sasai committed suicide.[28] He had been cleared of misconduct, but also criticized for inadequate supervision of Obokata.[29]

Obokata announced her resignation from Riken in December 2014.[30][31]

In 2016, Obokata's book 'Ano hi' (あの日- 'That Day') was published by Kodansha, who considered it 'an important record by someone whose side of the story has not yet been heard', and saying '“We think it’s meaningful to publish the views of Ms. Obokata herself to investigate the causes of confusion over the STAP cells”'. In this account of the controversy, Obokata relates 'her association with, and then estrangement from, onetime boss Teruhiko Wakayama, a former Riken researcher who now teaches at Yamanashi University', asserting that 'crucial parts of the STAP experiments were handled only by Wakayama' and alleging that 'he changed his accounts of how the STAP cells were produced.' Claiming to have received the cells used in the experiments from Wakayama, Obokata directs suspicions at him instead.[32]

Selected works[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "STAP cell pioneer nearly gave up on her research". The Asahi Shimbun. January 30, 2014. Archived from the original on January 30, 2014.
  2. ^ "Obokata had free way of thinking since childhood". The Japan News. Yomiuri Shimbun. February 2, 2014. Retrieved February 3, 2014.
  3. ^ Cyranoski, David (January 29, 2014). "Acid bath offers easy path to stem cells". Nature.
  4. ^ "Laboratory for Cellular Reprogramming". RIKEN.
  5. ^ "Stem cell 'major discovery' claimed". BBC. January 29, 2014.
  6. ^ "Research institute probes 'irregularities' in images associated with STAP cell discovery". Mainichi. February 15, 2014.
  7. ^ "On the articles of Haruko Obokata, who discovered STAP cells". stapcell.blogspot.com. February 13, 2014.
  8. ^ "PubPeer : "Stimulus-triggered fate conversion of somatic cells into pluripotency"". pubpeer.com. February 13, 2014.
  9. ^ "From stem cells to physics fraudulent science results are plenty but hard to find". Deutsche Welle. June 6, 2014. Retrieved June 6, 2014.
  10. ^ "Stem cell debacle déjà vu". Bio Edge. April 6, 2014. Retrieved April 6, 2014.
  11. ^ "STAP論文を「世界三大研究不正」の1つに認定". 日経BPネット. June 13, 2014. Retrieved June 13, 2014.
  12. ^ "STAP細胞が『世界3大研究不正』とされた衝撃". Yahooニュース. June 14, 2014. Retrieved June 14, 2014.
  13. ^ "科学界の「世界の三大不正」とは?小保方晴子氏問題、「シェーン事件以上」との指摘も". newclassic. June 15, 2014. Archived from the original on June 15, 2014. Retrieved June 15, 2014.
  14. ^ "Profile of Riken scientist Obokata". NHK. January 30, 2014. Archived from the original on February 3, 2014.
  15. ^ "Waseda graduate finds new method to create stem cells: Haruko Obokata leads research team". Waseda University. January 30, 2014.
  16. ^ "STAP cell scientist seeks to withdraw Ph.D. thesis" Archived April 7, 2014, at the Wayback Machine. The Asahi Shimbun. March 16, 2014.
  17. ^ Momoko, Suda, "[1] Archived November 9, 2015, at the Wayback Machine", "Mainichi Shimbun", 30 October 2015
  18. ^ Murai, Shusuke, "Waseda University strips Obokata of Ph.D.", Japan Times, 3 November 2015, p. 2
  19. ^ "'Rikejo' scientist triumphed over setbacks". The Japan News. The Yomiuri Shimbun. January 31, 2014. Archived from the original on February 3, 2014.
  20. ^ "RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology (CDB): CDB welcomes two new laboratories" (PDF). RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology. April 4, 2013.
  21. ^ Normile, Dennis; Vogel, Gretchen (March 10, 2014). "Retraction Request Made as More Questions Swirl Around Simple Stem Cell Method". news.sciencemag.org.
  22. ^ Schlanger, Zoe (April 1, 2014). "Haruko Obokata, Who Claimed Stem Cell Breakthrough, Found Guilty of Scientific Misconduct". Newsweek. Retrieved April 1, 2014.
  23. ^ Ishii, Shunsuke et al. (March 31, 2014) Report on STAP Cell Research Paper Investigation. riken.jp
  24. ^ Elaine Lies (June 4, 2014). "Japan researcher agrees to withdraw disputed stem cell paper". Reuters. Retrieved June 4, 2014.
  25. ^ Lawrence, Janet (July 2, 2014). "Nature journal retracts stem cell paper citing "critical errors"". Reuters. Retrieved July 2, 2014.
  26. ^ McNeil, David (June 30, 2014) "In Japan, Research Scandal Prompts Questions". Chronicle of Higher Education
  27. ^ "Obokata fails to reproduce 'STAP cell' discovery". The Japan Times. December 18, 2014.
  28. ^ Cyranoski, David (August 5, 2014) "Researcher’s death shocks Japan". Nature News Blog
  29. ^ "Japanese stem cell scientist Yoshiki Sasai found dead in apparent suicide", The Independent, 5 August 2014. Accessed 6 August 2014
  30. ^ Gallagher, James (December 19, 2014). "Stem cell scandal scientist Haruko Obokata resigns". BBC News. Retrieved December 19, 2014.
  31. ^ Rasko, John; Carl Power (February 18, 2015). "What pushes scientists to lie? The disturbing but familiar story of Haruko Obokata". The Guardian. Retrieved February 19, 2015.
  32. ^ Otake, Tomoko (January 27, 2016). "Obokata breaks silence, suggests colleague bears blame for STAP debacle". Retrieved July 28, 2019 – via Japan Times Online.

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