Another Nature stem cell paper is retracted

nature 73014Another stem cell paper has been retracted from Nature, this one a highly cited 2008 study that had already been the subject of what the journal’s news section called a “furore” in 2010.

According to that 2010 news story:

The researchers behind the original work1, led by Thomas Skutella of the University of Tübingen, reported using cells from adult human testes to create pluripotent stem cells with similar properties to embryonic stem cells.

But a 2010 Brief Communication Arising called those findings into question. And now, the authors have retracted the paper. Here’s the notice for “Generation of pluripotent stem cells from adult human testis:”

The authors have provided new data to correct errors presented in this Article. Nature has peer-reviewed all evidence provided by the authors to the editors. The images presented in the original version of the Article made the data appear more robust than newly conducted experiments show. The new data have brought to light that the original conclusions are not as robust as presented in the original paper. Nature does not dispute the main claim that the cells are pluripotent to some level, but the level of proof of pluripotency shown is not in line with regular criteria for such papers in Nature. Consequently, the authors have agreed to retract their manuscript.

The study has been cited 281 times, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge. Skutella — who sued his university for cutting his promised funding in the wake of the questions over his work– tells Retraction Watch:

We are in the process of publishing new research on haGSCs and have already published a new research paper on human spermatogonia.

This is the seventh retraction in Nature this year.

8 thoughts on “Another Nature stem cell paper is retracted”

  1. On Twitter, @AkshatRathi asked @RichVN “What’s the annual average?”

    @Richvn @AkshatRathi From WoS: [2001-2014]: 2,1,10,1,4,5,0,3,1,4,0,1,3,7. Average: 3.1

    1. Yes, but is the meaning of this average? Please indicate the annual number of papers (all categories) published on a yearly basis from 2001-2014. Also, a comparative table showing how the editor board changed over the past 13 years would make sense observing. In my opinion, 3.1 is miniscule. If the total number of papers published in one year was let’s say 1000, then 3.1 would equal 0.31%, which is absolutely nothing. Some of the journals in Beall’s list shold see 100% of their papers retracted, so it’ simportant to keep things relative.

      1. Beall’s list contains dubious journals. Nature is among the most prestigious journals. So, the harm done by scientific misconduct in a Nature paper reverberates far and for a long time, while the journals on Beall’s list are… well…mostly ephemeral.

    2. @steelgraham – that’s just the sort of info that the curious will desire to know in this context. Kudos for your perceptive and preemptive anticipation!

      So, the last time Nature retractions peaked was at a princely 4 in 2010. At that time, Nature felt obliged to calm down the anxious masses with this stirring editorial

      A quote

      “This year, Nature has published four retractions, an unusually large number. In 2009 we published one. Throughout the past decade, we have averaged about two per year, compared with about one per year in the 1990s, excluding the pulse of retractions of papers co-authored by Schön.”

      Another quote

      “Given that Nature publishes about 800 papers a year, the total is not particularly alarming, especially because only some of the retractions are due to proven misconduct.”

      Phew! Nothing to worry about, then. The Nature editorial wraps up in inspiring fashion

      “Ultimately, it comes down to the researchers — those most affected by the acts — to remain observant and diligent in pursuing their concerns wherever they lead, and where necessary, to correct the literature promptly. Too often, such conscientious behaviour is not rewarded as it should be.”

      Indeed, may I perhaps join with Nature in saying “Well done to the class of 2014 PPPRers”! But surely Nature would not like you to rest on your laurels when there is a record retraction total for the journal now within our grasp. (The target to beat is the 10 in 2003). For, as they state, when it comes to pursuing their concerns wherever they lead, “Ultimately, it comes down to the researchers”. I wonder, do they mean you, dear reader?

    3. @steelgraham – I am curious: do you know if the two Obokata stap cell papers are the fastest ever retractions for Nature, lasting less than 6 months (30.1.14 – 3-7-14)?

      Another path my thoughts have followed is that, since Nature are having a bumper year, perhaps they could use it to clear out a few of the “skeletons in their closets” so to speak.

      Students of Retraction Watch will know that Nature is quite famous for unleashing “Massive Corrections” for papers that should really have been retracted as nobody will every believe in them again. For example

      In the protein structure field, a well known failure to retract concerns the 2006 fictitious complement C3B structure from the serially naughty – and soon thereafter to be defunct – Murthy lab in Birmingham, Alabama, as immortalised here

      And also covered here

      The Nature paper is linked from PubMed (note the lack of a retraction link on PubMed)

      Perhaps we can help Nature in sorting their clear out? Do other RW readers know of Nature papers that have not been retracted but in their view should have been? Perhaps, though, it would be best not to propose a paper for retraction unless you can link to an informed and critical web site?

  2. Skutella was part of the curious case of Savaskan-Nitch. Plenty in the comments section of this RW post:

    Conrad (first author of the retracted Nature paper) and Skutella have had this correction of a JBC paper:
    “Neogenin-RGMa signaling at the growth cone is bone morphogenetic protein-independent and involves RhoA, ROCK, and PKC.
    Sabine Conrad, Harald Genth, Fred Hofmann, Ingo Just and Thomas Skutella

    Fig. 6 contains two mistakes. 1) In A, the right half of the gel (0, 3, 6, and 9 min. after Fc-RGMa+IgG treatment) showing total unchanged RhoA was interchanged with an inverted image taken from the left half of the gel (0, 3, 6, and 9 min. after Fc-Control+IgG treatment) instead of showing the original correlating gel with the same unchanged RhoA activity between the different time points. The original gel correlating to 0, 3, 6, and 9 min. after Fc-RGMa+IgG treatment in A shows the same result. 2) In the tables below D and E, for the Rho kinase activity in picograms (D) and the PKC kinase activity in nanograms (E), the values are correct, but no standard deviation should be shown.”

  3. The whole issue of alleged pluripotency of testis stem cells is strange. Hans Schöler published in Nature and elsewhere that murine testis contain pluripotent stem cells, yet Schöler opposed this Sketella paper on pluripotent stem cells from human testes as soon as it appeared. What is most peculiar though, that testis pluripotency, in mice or humans, is a dead and finished issue since years now. Noone does seriously pursue this anymore, despite that this would be the easiest way to procure mouse pluripotent stem cells. One wonders why.

  4. Lost in this discussion is that there were actually several studies reporting similar findings at the time. This one was perhaps the most well-cited (besides the Nature work)
    Stem Cells. 2009 Jan;27(1):138-49. doi: 10.1634/stemcells.2008-0439.
    As far as I know the data has not been reproduced in humans/primates, but has been in (some strains of) mice.

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