Monday, February 26, 2007

Adult Stem Cell Study May Be Wrong

Opponents of embyonic stem cell research like to cite a 2002 study that suggested adult stem cells might be as useful as embryonic ones. Turns out that study was flawed and its conclusions may be wrong.

Catherine Verfaillie, at the University of Minnesota, conducted the research and authored the oft-cited study.

But Verfaillie has acknowledged flaws in parts of the study after inquiries from the British magazine New Scientist, which first publicized the questions last week.

A panel of experts commissioned by the university concluded that the process used to identify tissue derived from the adult stem cells was "significantly flawed, and that the interpretations based on these data, expressed in the manuscript, are potentially incorrect," according to a portion of the panel's findings released by the university.

The panel concluded that it was not clear whether the flaws mean Verfaillie's conclusions were wrong. It also determined that the flaws were mistakes, not falsifications.

Tim Mulcahy, vice president of research at the university, said it would be up to the scientific community to decide whether Verfaillie's study still stands up.

"From her perspective, the findings stand. I think the scientific community will have to make their own opinion," he said.

Other researchers have been unable to duplicate Verfaillie's results since the 2002 publications, increasing their skepticism about her claims.

[. . .]

Her research was scrutinized after a writer for New Scientist noticed that some data from the original 2002 article in the journal Nature duplicated data in a second paper by Verfaillie around the same time in a different journal, even though they supposedly referred to different cells. Verfaillie told the Star Tribune that the duplication was an oversight and said she notified the University of Minnesota, which convened the panel to take a closer look at the research.

I'm sure these findings will be debated for some time.