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Nature retracts paper that claimed adult stem cell could become any type of cell

Nature has retracted a 2002 paper from the lab of Catherine Verfaillie purporting to show a type of adult stem cell could, under certain circumstances, “contribute to most, if not all, somatic cell types.” 

The retracted article, “Pluripotency of mesenchymal stem cells derived from adult marrow,” has been controversial since its publication. Still, it has been cited nearly 4,500 times, according to Clarivate’s Web of Science – making it by far the most-cited retracted paper ever.

In 2007, New Scientist reported on questions about data in the Nature paper and another of Verfaille’s articles in Blood. Nature published a correction that year. 

The errors the authors corrected “do not alter the conclusions of the Article,” they wrote in the notice. 

The University of Minnesota-Twin Cities in Minneapolis, where Verfaillie worked when the Nature paper was published, in 2008 found the Blood paper contained falsified images, but Verfaillie was not responsible for the manipulations. Blood retracted the article in 2009 at the request of the authors. 

Verfaillie moved to KU Leuven, where she is now an emeritus professor. She has not responded to our request for comment. 

KU Leuven conducted an investigation of Verfaillie’s work in 2019-2020, after Elisabeth Bik posted questions about the data in her papers, including the one from 2002 in Nature, on PubPeer. The university found “no breach of research integrity in the publications investigated.” 

Bik tweeted about the retraction: 

The notice mentions two image duplications Bik wrote about on PubPeer. Because the authors could not retrieve the original images, it states: 

the Editors no longer have confidence that the conclusion that multipotent adult progenitor cells (MAPCs) engraft in the bone marrow is supported.

Given the concerns above the Editors no longer have confidence in the reliability of the data reported in this article.

According to the notice, most of the authors, including Verfaillie, agreed with the retraction. She now has four retractions, by our count.

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