Acid-bath stem-cell study under peer review investigation

mouse embryo
Pluripotent stem cells injected into a mouse embryo

A leading Japanese research institute has opened an investigation into a groundbreaking stem cell study after concerns were raised about its credibility.

The RIKEN centre in Kobe announced on Friday that it is looking into alleged irregularities in the work of biologist Haruko Obokata, who works at the institution. She shot to fame last month as the lead author on two papers1, 2 published in Nature that demonstrated a simple way to reprogram mature mice cells into an embryonic state by simply applying stress, such as exposure to acid or physical pressure on cell membranes. The RIKEN investigation follows allegations on blog sites about the use of duplicated images in Obokata’s papers, and numerous failed attempts to replicate her results…

That scepticism deepened last week when blogs such as PubPeer started noting what seem to be problems in the two Nature papers and in an earlier paper from 2011, which relates to the potential of stem cells in adult tissues…The corresponding author of that study, Charles Vacanti, an anaesthesiologist at Harvard Medical School in Boston, told Nature that he learned only last week of a “mix up of some panels”. He has already contacted the journal to request a correction. “It certainly appears to have been an honest mistake [that] did not affect any of the data, the conclusions or any other component of the paper,” says Vacanti.

The problems in the two recent Nature papers, on both of which Obokata is a corresponding author (Vacanti is a co-author on both, and corresponding author on one), also relate to images…

Teruhiko Wakayama, a cloning specialist at Yamanashi University in Yamanashi prefecture, is a co-author on both of the papers and took most of the placental images. He admits that the two look similar but says it may be a case of simple confusion. Wakayama, who left RIKEN during the preparation of the manuscript, says he sent more than a hundred images to Obokata and suggests that there was confusion over which to use. He says he is now looking into the problem…

Some researchers do not see a problem yet. Qi Zhou, a cloning expert at the Institute of Zoology in Beijing, who says most of his mouse cells died after treatment with acid, says that “setting up the system is tricky”. “As an easy experiment in an experienced lab can be extremely difficult to others, I won’t comment on the authenticity of the work only based on the reproducibility of the technique in my lab,” says Zhou…

Wakayama says that his independent success in reproducing Obokata’s results is enough to convince him that the technique works. He also notes that the cells produced by Obokata are the only ones known — aside from those in newly fertilized embryos — to be able to produce, for example, placenta, so could not have been substituted cells. “I did it and found it myself,” he says. “I know the results are absolutely true.”

One of the delights of peer review can be failure to corroborate or replicate results. Doesn’t mean the original work is incorrect. It means the system is working.

And more work to corroborate is required.

Kiwi PM states for the record: “I am not a reptile”

John-Key-reptilian
Close-up of Prime Minister during the press conference

He’s been to a doctor and a vet just to make sure, but Prime Minister John Key is adamant he’s not a shapeshifting reptilian alien.

Mr Key was unusually forced to deny any previously non-declared extraterrestrial connections to reporters after an Auckland man put in an Official Information Act request asking for proof he might be one.

“To the best of my knowledge, no. Having been asked that question directly, I’ve taken the unusual step of not only seeing a doctor but a vet, and both have confirmed I’m not a reptile,” a smiling Mr Key said today.

“So I’m certainly not a reptile. I’ve never been in a spaceship, never been in outer space, and my tongue’s not overly long either.”

Last month, Auckland man Shane Warbrooke put in an OIA request to the prime minister’s office, asking for “any evidence to disprove the theory that Mr John Key is in fact a David Icke style shapeshifting reptilian alien ushering humanity towards enslavement”.

David Icke is a British author who believes many world leaders are actually part of a plot to enslave the human race, driven by reptilian shapeshifting aliens…

When asked how he would describe himself, Mr Key said he was “just an ordinary Kiwi bloke”.

Unlike one of our most infamous Republican presidents who said, “I am not a crook” – and turned out to be one – I think we can take the prime minister of New Zealand at his word on this one.

Kentucky Khristian joins the ranks of Darwin Award contenders

snake-handling fool

A Kentucky snake-handling preacher who appeared in a television show about the religious practice has died of a snakebite after refusing medical treatment…

Jamie Coots was found dead about 10pm local time on Saturday at his house in Middlesboro, Kentucky, according to Middlesboro police chief Jeff Sharpe.

Emergency personnel had gone to his home about 90 minutes earlier after getting a call, police said. They found Coots suffering from a snakebite wound to his right hand, Sharpe said in a statement.

“After examination and discussion of possible dangers if the wound was not treated, treatment and transport to the hospital was refused,” the statement said.

The emergency responders left after failing to persuade Coots to get help but returned less than an hour later, the statement said.

They “discovered Mr Coots had passed away, apparently due to a venomous snakebite”, it said.

Coots appeared in a National Geographic television show titled Snake Salvation about Pentecostal preachers who defy the law to use serpents as part of their religious services.

Snake-handling, which is illegal in most places, is practised as a test of faith and guided by the theory that true believers will not be harmed.

It is particularly popular in parts of Appalachia. Middlesboro lies near the junction of Kentucky, Virginia and Tennessee and is about 60 miles (100 km) north of Knoxville, Tennessee…

Easy resolution to the question of which ruled this man’s life: ignorance or stupidity?

The number of chemicals linked with brain disorders in children continues to grow

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Toxic chemicals may be triggering the recent increases in neurodevelopmental disabilities among children—such as autism, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, and dyslexia—according to a new study from Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) and Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. The researchers say a new global prevention strategy to control the use of these substances is urgently needed.

“The greatest concern is the large numbers of children who are affected by toxic damage to brain development in the absence of a formal diagnosis. They suffer reduced attention span, delayed development, and poor school performance. Industrial chemicals are now emerging as likely causes,” said Philippe Grandjean, adjunct professor of environmental health at HSPH.

The report follows up on a similar review conducted by the authors in 2006 that identified five industrial chemicals as “developmental neurotoxicants,” or chemicals that can cause brain deficits. The new study offers updated findings about those chemicals and adds information on six newly recognized ones, including manganese, fluoride, chlorpyrifos and DDT (pesticides), tetrachloroethylene (a solvent), and the polybrominated diphenyl ethers (flame retardants).

The study outlines possible links between these newly recognized neurotoxicants and negative health effects on children, including:

Manganese is associated with diminished intellectual function and impaired motor skills
Solvents are linked to hyperactivity and aggressive behavior
Certain types of pesticides may cause cognitive delays

Grandjean and co-author Philip Landrigan, Dean for Global Health at Mount Sinai, also forecast that many more chemicals than the known dozen or so identified as neurotoxicants contribute to a “silent pandemic” of neurobehavioral deficits that is eroding intelligence, disrupting behaviors, and damaging societies. But controlling this pandemic is difficult because of a scarcity of data to guide prevention and the huge amount of proof needed for government regulation. “Very few chemicals have been regulated as a result of developmental neurotoxicity,” they write…

“The problem is international in scope, and the solution must therefore also be international,” said Grandjean. “We have the methods in place to test industrial chemicals for harmful effects on children’s brain development—now is the time to make that testing mandatory.”

The report was published over the weekend. It is available at Lancet Neurology.

Mail me a penny postcard when governments in industrial nations producing, utilizing, distributing, selling these chemicals decide to respond to Philippe Grandjean’s recommendation. When they make testing mandatory. When they put an end to human contact with these chemicals and their residues.

I’m used to waiting. Excuses. Lies.