New STAP stem cells questioned

After the high tide of enthusiasm comes the ebb tide of scepticism. The new STAP cells discovered by  a team of researchers from Japan and Boston are being questioned by stem cell scientists.

In a paper published in Nature in January, the authors claimed that subjecting ordinary cells to stress will make them revert to a state in which they can make any cell in the body. “It’s a startling result that makes you stand up and go, ‘Wow!’” said George Q. Daley, a leading stem cell researcher at the Harvard Stem Cell Institute.

But in his stem cell blog, Paul Knoepfler, a leading stem cell scientist at the University of California, Davis, is sceptical. He poses five questions that need to be asked.

  • The STAP method and results are illogical and too good to be true.
  • in 2001 “the STAP team previously reported ‘spore’ stem cells, which to my knowledge have not been independently replicated.”
  • In 2011, “The team also previously reported adult pluripotent stem cells.”
  • “Evolution should have selected against a hair trigger for conversion to pluriopotency or totipotency”
  • “Why the delay to make human STAP cells?” The team succeeded in producing mouse STAP cells in 2011.

However, the debate about the experiment should be settled quickly. As Knoepfler notes, “we’ll know if STAP cells are the real deal within as short as two months because quite a few labs are now trying the technique.

Nobel laureate Shinya Yamanaka also stepped into the debate, swatting away reports that STAP cell were a safer alternative to the stem cell he developed in 2007, induced pluripotent stem cells.

“What hurt us were a lot of reports that concluded STAP cells are safer than iPS cells. The iPS cells announced in 2006 using mice and the iPS cells created now use totally different techniques. I find it quite regrettable that the reports made comparisons with the old technique.”

This article is published by Michael Cook and BioEdge.org under a Creative Commons licence. You may republish it or translate it free of charge with attribution for non-commercial purposes following these guidelines. If you teach at a university we ask that your department make a donation. Commercial media must contact us for permission and fees. Some articles on this site are published under different terms.

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