Researcher partly validates results of controversial stem cell study

It’s been just two months since an international team of researchers made a revolutionary announcement: pluripotent stem cells, produced by simply bathing adult cells in acid. Here's the latest on this story.

To Kenneth Ka-Ho Lee and his team at the Chinese University of Hong Kong this sounded like a revelation. They wanted to try it out for themselves. Now, after following two different protocols and failing once, they succeeded in finding potential signs of pluripotency in a totally unexpected way.

In our last update, we told you about how Kenneth failed to produce the so-called STAP-cells following the methods described in a detailed protocol that was released by the authors of the study led by Haruko Obokata in early March. Kenneth posted the results from this trial with Open Review on March 13, 2014.  

Since then, more doubts on the study’s validity have arisen. Charles Vacanti, another co-author of the Nature study from Harvard University, released a different version of the protocol. This new method was the focus of Kenneth’s second attempt to reproduce the study, which he live-blogged about on ResearchGate.

Today, at 5:30 pm Hong Kong time, Kenneth posted results. They may suggest that STAP works, and if so, the trick doesn’t seem to be the acid.

The Vacanti protocol required placing a lot of stress on the cells. So much, in fact, that during the first three days of the experiment Kenneth reported rapid cell death to the point where he decided to cut the experiment short. He feared that he wouldn’t have had enough cells left to examine for signs of pluripotency if he had carried on with the rather harsh procedure another day.

In addition to being bathed in acid, the Vacanti protocol said to manually triturate the cells using pipettes with decreasing lumen twice a day. Kenneth’s results seem to suggest that this is what might have reprogrammed them to pluripotency.

Update April 3, 2014:

Kenneth has been speaking about his latest results with other stem cell researchers over the last two days on the live-blog of his Open Review and beyond. He feels that what he and his team saw might not have been significant enough to indicate the existence of STAP cells. Kenneth and his team are now returning to their research into the function of the BRE gene, a component of theBRCA1 and BRISC complex, and are looking for collaborators.