Two months ago I reported on an exciting new finding (this blog Feb. 3, 2014) that a Japanese and American team of researchers had developed a simple way to produce pluripotent stem cells from adult cells.   The paper was hailed as a breakthrough of sorts.  If true, it suggested that deriving stem cells from embryos (always controversial) might no longer be necessary.

That finding is now in serious doubt, because other researchers have been unable to verify the data.   A blog site that is following attempts to duplicate the research says that most researchers no longer believe that the findings are real (search STAP cells).   The research institute where the Japanese researchers work is investigating.   So far the original paper has not been retracted, but that’s a distinct possibility.

How can we have any faith in scientific discoveries if the story changes month-to-month?  The answer is that science is not about having faith.   It’s about verifying and then verifying again, until we can have confidence, backed by reproducible data, in what we know.   It’s messy.  Sometimes the answer isn’t what we thought it was, but over time we get closer and closer to the truth, whatever it is.

As for pluripotent stem cells, it’s back to square one when it comes to creating them from adult cells, apparently. Embryos may yet be needed for awhile.

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