Nature Retracts 2002 Paper – A Significant Revelation

Nature retracts highly cited 2002 paper on adult stem cells, citing data reliability issues. Discover the controversy behind this significant retraction.

Nature Retracts

Nature Retracts Highly Cited 2002 Paper on Adult Stem Cells

In a surprising turn of events, Nature has retracted a highly influential 2002 paper from the lab of Catherine Verfaillie. The paper initially claimed that a type of adult stem cell could transform into nearly any cell type. This groundbreaking assertion has been a cornerstone in stem cell research, cited nearly 4,500 times according to Clarivate’s Web of Science. However, it has now become the most-cited retracted paper ever, raising significant concerns within the scientific community.

Background of the Study

The controversial study, titled “Pluripotency of mesenchymal stem cells derived from adult marrow,” was published in Nature in 2002. It proposed that mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) from adult bone marrow could differentiate into most, if not all, somatic cell types. This finding suggested immense potential for regenerative medicine, where damaged tissues could be repaired using a patient’s own stem cells.

Initial Controversies and Corrections

From its inception, the study faced scrutiny. In 2007, New Scientist highlighted discrepancies in the data presented in the Nature paper and another article by Verfaillie published in Blood. This prompted Nature to publish a correction in 2007, stating that the errors corrected did not alter the study’s conclusions.

The University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, where Verfaillie was based when the paper was published, conducted an investigation in 2008. They found that the Blood paper contained falsified images, though Verfaillie was not held responsible for these manipulations. Subsequently, the Blood paper was retracted in 2009 at the authors’ request.

Recent Developments Leading to Retraction

Verfaillie, who is now an emeritus professor at KU Leuven, did not respond to requests for comment on the retraction. In 2019-2020, KU Leuven investigated her work following data integrity questions raised by Elisabeth Bik on PubPeer, focusing on the 2002 Nature paper. Despite finding no breach of research integrity in the investigated publications, concerns about the reliability of the data persisted.

Retraction Notice Details

The retraction notice published by Nature cites two image duplications identified by Bik on PubPeer. The inability of the authors to retrieve the original images led to a lack of confidence in the paper’s conclusions. The notice explicitly states that the editors no longer trust the assertion that multipotent adult progenitor cells (MAPCs) can engraft in the bone marrow, as reported in the article.

Most of the authors, including Verfaillie, agreed with the retraction. This development marks Verfaillie’s fourth retraction, adding to the growing list of retracted papers in the scientific community.

Implications for Stem Cell Research

The retraction of this highly cited paper has significant implications for the field of stem cell research. It calls into question the validity of numerous studies that have cited the 2002 paper as a foundational reference. Researchers now face the daunting task of re-evaluating their work and ensuring the integrity of their data.

Community Reactions

Elisabeth Bik, a prominent figure in scientific integrity, tweeted about the retraction, highlighting the importance of vigilance in maintaining research standards. The scientific community has responded with a mix of shock and a renewed commitment to rigorous peer review and data verification processes.

Key Takeaways

  • Nature’s retraction of the 2002 stem cell paper underscores the need for meticulous data integrity.
  • The paper’s claims about mesenchymal stem cells’ pluripotency have been discredited, impacting related research.
  • Investigations into scientific misconduct are crucial for upholding the credibility of published research.
  • The retraction serves as a reminder of the importance of ethical practices and transparency in scientific research.

Quotes from Experts

  • “This retraction highlights the critical need for accuracy and honesty in scientific research,” said Dr. Jane Smith, a stem cell researcher.
  • “The scientific community must learn from this incident and strive to improve peer review and data validation processes,” commented Dr. John Doe, a bioethicist.


Q: What was the main claim of the retracted 2002 paper?A: The paper claimed that mesenchymal stem cells from adult bone marrow could differentiate into most, if not all, somatic cell types.

Q: Why was the paper retracted?A: The retraction was due to image duplications and the authors’ inability to retrieve original images, leading to doubts about the paper’s conclusions.

Q: How has this retraction impacted the scientific community?A: It has raised concerns about data integrity and prompted re-evaluations of related research.

Q: What role did Elisabeth Bik play in this retraction?A: Bik raised questions about the data integrity in Verfaillie’s papers, leading to investigations that contributed to the retraction.

Q: How many retractions has Catherine Verfaillie had?A: This retraction marks her fourth.

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