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Self-proclaimed iPS pioneer admits lies but maintains pathbreaking procedure

The story keeps getting odder for Hisashi Moriguchi, the visiting scholar at the University of Tokyo who last week claimed a clinical breakthrough in using induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells.

Moriguchi said that he injected cells derived from iPS cells into six patients with heart failure, with positive therapeutic effect. But the story was so full of holes, and his scientific publications were so problematic, that it was hard to believe he had done any of it.

In a press conference in New York on Saturday, Moriguchi admitted that for five of the six patients, he was discussing “planned” procedures rather than ones that had actually taken place. “I guess I got a little bit high. That was wrong,” he explained. “I admit that I lied.”

But Moriguchi has not completely given up. He maintains that the first surgery did take place — but not in February 2012 at Harvard, as he had originally claimed. At the press conference, he explained that he did it last June at a Boston hospital whose name he could not produce. As evidence, he produced a stamp in his passport showing that he had entered the United States at that time. He says he has notes on the procedure at his home in Chiba, a prefecture neighbouring Tokyo.

He also has stuck to his story that in 2010 he used iPS cells to treat a patient with hepatitis C. In April of that year, Moriguchi contacted the Nihon Keizai Shimbun to tell them about it. In June 2010 the newspaper wrote about it. On Friday (12 October), the Tokyo Medical and Dental University, which Moriguchi named as a collaborating institution on the procedures, said that no such procedures took place. Moriguchi then changed the story to say that the clinical experiment took place in the United States.

There are more problems for his published reports. Susan McGreevey, of the public affairs department at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, contacted me to say that the hospital’s Raymond Chung “was stunned to see” his name listed as one of Moriguchi’s co-authors in the first reference of a Nature article. “Dr. Chung knew nothing about this paper before seeing your article.” Chung has “assisted Dr. Moriguchi with the preparation and editing of several other papers” but “he did not participate in preparing the referenced paper in any way and did not give permission for his name to be cited as a co-author.” (Nature had tried e-mail and phone to contact Chung before publishing that story.)

Four others named by Moriguchi at the press conference as collaborators in the heart-failure procedures have distanced themselves from any of the clinical work with Moriguchi. One, Kyorin University public-health specialist Takamoto Uemura, said that he hadn’t had any contact with Moriguchi for more than three years. “He just arbitrarily used my name. It’s very annoying.”

Moriguchi also, like so many fraudulent scientists before him, has image problems. The first figure in his paper about the cryopreservation of ovaries appears to be identical to the bottom figure used on the website of the Advanced Fertility Center of Chicago in Illinois. (To be fair, I have yet to call and confirm with that Chicago clinic — there’s always the possibility, quite slim I think, that they got the image from Moriguchi’s publication.) (Thanks Hiromitsu Nakauchi for drawing this to my attention.)

Likewise, in Moriguchi’s paper about making iPS cells from liver cells, Figure 2  appears to be the same as Figure 1D of Shinya Yamanaka’s 2007 paper, with the contrast changed and a little stretching of the axes. (Thanks to Noemi Fusaki for drawing my attention to that.)

Until the end of Saturday’s press conference, however, Moriguchi stuck to his guns about the one iPS cell procedure that supposedly took place at an unnamed Boston hospital. “That one was real. I really did it,” he said. He admitted, however, that his “career as a researcher is probably over.”

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    Jim Woodgett said:

    With respect to his last comment on his career in research, one can but hope. There is certainly an enormous and growing business in pseudo-stem cell therapies which will do nothing but harm to the real science. That Shinyu Yamanaka took time to point out this problem in his Nobel Prize press briefing, along with ISSCR efforts to shame stem cell quackery, is a good sign that the research community not only recognizes but actively countering this 21st Century snake oil.

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