Doubts raised over adult stem cell research

Enquiries by a British scientific magazine have raised questions about a 2002 finding that adult stem cells may be as useful as embryonic ones but the study author and Leuven Catholic university employee has denied that the flaws affected her conclusions.

Researcher Catherine Verfaillie, then at the University of Minnesota had concluded that adult stem cells taken from the bone marrow of mice could grow into an array of biological tissues, including brain, heart, lung and liver, The Age reports.

Opponents of stem cell research seized on the 2002 findings as evidence that stem cell science could move forward without destroying embryos.

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

A panel of experts commissioned by Minnesota 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.

Other researchers have been unable to duplicate Verfaillie's results since the 2002 publications, increasing their skepticism about her claims. But that may only be an indication of how difficult the cells are to work with, said Amy Wagers, a Harvard University stem cell researcher who was not involved in the investigation.

Verfaillie, who is currently employed at the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium, told the Star Tribune of Minneapolis in a story published on Friday that the problem was "an honest mistake" that did not affect the study's conclusions about the potential of adult stem cells.

Her research was scrutinised 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.

Dr Diane Krause of Yale University, who, like Verfaillie, has studied using bone marrow as an alternative to embryonic stem cells, said she believes Verfaillie's research will hold up, despite being hard to repeat.

"When it comes to Catherine, she's impeccable. She's one of the most careful scientists I know," Krause said.

Adult stem cells study 'may be flawed' (The Age, 27/2/07)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
University of Minnesota
Catholic University of Leuven

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27 Feb 2007