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Nobel laureate Shinya Yamanaka (left) suggested at a press conference that Kyoto University in Japan could ask him to resign over fraud committed by one of his center’s scientists.

The Yomiuri Shimbun/AP Images

Nobel laureate suggests he could resign from leadership post over colleague’s bogus paper

Shinya Yamanaka, who won a share of the 2012 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for the discovery of induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells, has suggested he could resign as director of Kyoto University’s Center for iPS Cell Research and Application (CiRA) in Japan over a fraudulent paper published by center researchers. But observers in Japan say Yamanaka, who was not an author of the paper, was simply emphasizing how seriously he takes scientific misconduct. 

The paper in question appeared in the journal Stem Cell Reports in March 2017. According to a report signed by Yamanaka posted on CiRA’s website, after receiving allegations of possibly fraudulent images, CiRA and Kyoto University started a preliminary inquiry in July 2017 and then launched a full investigative committee in September. The committee found that all six main figures in the paper were fraudulent. It also concluded that the lead author, Kohei Yamamizu, an assistant professor at CiRA, had carried out the fabrications on his own. The images are central to the paper’s conclusions, and the authors have asked the journal to retract the paper. Kyoto University “is now deliberating its punishment toward [Yamamizu], the professor who supervised the researcher, and myself,” Yamanaka wrote.

Responding to a query at a press conference yesterday announcing the investigation’s results, Yamanaka said his punishment could include his resignation. Few however believe Kyoto University would ask Yamanaka, one of Japan’s top scientists, to step down. “I personally don’t think that the university is considering” that option, CiRA spokesperson Akemi Nakamura wrote in an email to ScienceInsider. “Resignation doesn’t sound like the right thing to happen in this situation,” adds Alan Trounson, a stem cell scientist at the Hudson Institute of Medical Research in Clayton, Australia. But some observers say the story may not be finished. One research impropriety was uncovered, but others could still be hidden, says Masahiro Kami, executive director of the Tokyo-based Medical Governance Research Institute. He would like to see Kyoto University investigate other papers by Yamamizu.

Nakamura says Kyoto University could take months to decide on disciplinary measures. In the meantime, the university and Yamanaka have outlined steps they intend to take to prevent a recurrence, including regular review of lab notebooks by a third party that will also be charged with checking data supporting papers submitted for publication.