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January 22, 2018

Research misconduct discovered at Kyoto University

Kyoto University announced on January 22, 2018, that a committee investigating research misconduct at the university has found Kohei Yamamizu, a Specially-Appointed Assistant Professor at the Center for iPS Cell Research and Application (CiRA), conducted research fraud. The research in question is related to a research paper published in Stem Cell Reports in 2017.*

Kyoto University takes seriously any research misconduct by its students, the faculty and staff and will take additional measures to prevent such behavior from recurring.

* Stem Cell Reports 8(3) 634-647. March 14, 2017.
In Vitro Modeling of Blood-Brain Barrier with Human iPS Cell-Derived Endothelial Cells, Pericytes, Neurons, and Astrocytes via Notch Signaling.

CiRA's Consultation Office received last year an allegation that doubted the invalidity of the data in the 2017 paper. The office attempted to recreate some of the figures presented in the paper using original data preserved at CiRA, but found the conclusions in the paper were not consistent with the preserved data.

On July 3, 2017, the Consultation Office reported to the inquiry desk at the central administration of Kyoto University about the inconsistencies. Conducting a preliminary investigation by a task force set up at CiRA, the university's Investigative Committee of Research Integrity decided to conduct a comprehensive investigation on August 24, 2017. The investigation ran from September 11, 2017, until January 9, 2018. Both the committee and the task force included members from outside Kyoto University.

Collecting relevant electronic files and laboratory notebooks, the task force conducted multiple interviews with individuals related to the publication and took written statements. It also looked into the data collected.

Based on the investigation by the task force, the committee concluded that Yamamizu had conducted fabrication and falsification in the referred research publication. Although multiple authors contributed to the paper, the committee concluded that all discovered research misconduct is attributed to the one researcher.

In total, the committee found evidence of fraudulent data in all six main figures of the paper and in the five out of the six supplementary figures. Moreover, the main conclusions of the paper depended heavily on the fraudulent data.

Based on the conclusion of the investigative committee, Kyoto University is deliberating its punishment toward the researcher. The authors of the paper informed the journal of a request to retract the publication.

Measures to Prevent Research Misconduct
1. CiRA
To date, CiRA has implemented a number of measures to deter and detect research misconduct. These include 1) the review of laboratory notebooks by an internal third party once every three months, 2) the submission of data to the internal third party regarding any paper submitted for publication, 3) a consultation office that handles any concerns including those about possible misconduct. Initiatives to strengthen these measures are now ongoing and include the following.

1. Submissions of laboratory notebooks

  1. All researchers are obliged to submit their laboratory notebooks for regular review to an internal third party.
  2. Lab leaders are also responsible for reviewing the content of the notebooks.

2. Submission of data following paper submissions

  1. All data that support figures and tables will be submitted in designated formats for storage.
  2. The internal third party at CiRA will make sure that all data are present.

3. Continuing research training on ethics

  1. Thorough teaching to all research staff about proper laboratory note taking and data storage.
  2. Education for PIs and other researchers to increase their awareness toward research ethics and promote greater communication about ethical research and the expectations on CiRA researchers.

2. Kyoto University
Kyoto University provides the following education to students, faculty and staff in accordance with its Action Plan for the Promotion of Research Integrity.

  1. Education on research integrity to students
  2. Proper behavior in the classroom
  3. Education to graduate students on writing research papers
  4. Ethics education for the faculty members via various programs such as e-learning courses
  5. Proper handling and retention of data
  6. Building a better system for research integrity

In addition to the above, the university will provide more opportunities for the faculty and the staff to receive research ethics education.

Director's message to the public
I am saddened to report that our internal investigation has concluded that a specially-appointed assistant professor at CiRA falsified and fabricated the data used in a 2017 research publication for which he was the first and corresponding author.

CiRA is held in high esteem by many patients and the public. As CiRA Director, I feel a strong responsibility for not having been able to prevent research misconduct at our institute and sincerely apologize to all who support us and our research activities.

The paper was about generating an in vitro model of the blood-brain barrier, and some data used for the paper were found to be fraudulent. We have already contacted editors of the journal, and they have started the process to retract the paper. I want to stress that the research fraud has no direct influence on any ongoing or planned clinical research involving iPS cells.

Kyoto University is now deliberating its punishment toward the above specially-appointed assistant professor, the professor who supervised the researcher and myself. Any disciplinary action taken by the university will be made public.

In addition to general training for research compliance and ethics offered at Kyoto University, CiRA has been taking additional measures to prevent research fraud by diligently managing laboratory notebooks and experimental data used for research papers. We take misconduct very seriously. We will reevaluate our research management to strengthen our research ethics and to regain public trust in our research.

Director Shinya Yamanaka
CiRA, Kyoto University

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