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University of Tokyo Fires Researcher Over Stem Cell Surgery Claims

The University of Tokyo today dismissed the researcher who claimed to have carried out what would have been the world's first trial of treating human patients with cells created from their own induced pluripotent stem (iPS). The researcher, Hisashi Moriguchi, later admitted at a press conference that the original claim of injecting cardiac muscle cells derived from iPS cells into the hearts of five patients was false, although he maintained the procedure was carried out on a single patient at a Boston hospital in mid-2011.

"On 19 October, the University of Tokyo has taken the step of a disciplinary dismissal of Hisashi Moriguchi, a project researcher at the university hospital," reads a press release e-mailed to reporters and posted online this afternoon Japan time. It explains that the school's employment work rules call for dismissal "in the case of significantly damaging the university's honor or credibility."

"This was conduct unbecoming a member of the faculty of this university, and it was dealt with strictly," wrote Fumio Isoda, the executive vice president, in an accompanying statement. He added that the incident was regrettable and said an ongoing investigation would "clarify the facts as quickly as possible."

Even as investigations continue, the scale and nature of the problem is becoming clearer. Moriguchi was the corresponding author of two contributions to the Nature Group's online Protocol Exchange Web site, one covering cryopreservation of ovarian tissue and another describing direct reprogramming of human liver cancer cells using chemicals. Both contributions originally carried several co-authors, but notes on the Protocol Exchange Web site indicate that as of Wednesday, all of the co-authors had asked that their names be removed. One of those, Taro Okitsu at Keio University School of Medicine in Tokyo, told Protocol Exchange that he was not involved in the study, according to the online edition of the English language The Daily Yomiuri.

Another co-author on the Protocol Exchange contributions, Chifumi Sato, who studies liver disease and health promotion at Tokyo Medical and Dental University (TMDU), could also face disciplinary action. TMDU's investigating committee has concluded that Sato was aware that his name was used on some Moriguchi papers even though he had not verified the data, according to comments made to the press by Ikuo Morita, a university trustee who oversees research. "This is improper behavior for a researcher," the Asahi Shimbun's online article quoted Morita as saying after a meeting of the committee Thursday evening.