U.S. co-author of retracted stem cell papers to leave hospital post

WASHINGTON  — A U.S. researcher who co-authored controversial papers on stem cell development will quit his post at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston on Sept. 1, the institution said Aug. 12, without mentioning the reasons.

Charles Vacanti, chairman of the hospital’s Department of Anesthesiology, Preoperative and Pain Medicine, was involved in the publication by a Japanese institution of two theses on so-called STAP cells whose credibility came into question earlier this year.

Vacanti, known as a mentor of Haruko Obokata at the Japanese government-affiliate Riken who is a key author of the papers, will remain on faculty, the Boston hospital said.

Following a one year sabbatical Vacanti “intends to focus his energies on regenerative medicine and mentoring the next generation of anesthesiologists,” the hospital said.

It remains unknown if his latest step is linked with the STAP cell controversy.

According to a U.S-based expert on regenerative medicine, Vacanti of Harvard Medical School is believed to have told people including his colleagues of his intention to resign from the current post in an e-mail.

Paul Knoepfler, associate professor at the University of California’s Davis School of Medicine, released Vacanti’s e-mail on his blog on Aug. 11, which reads, “It is with somewhat mixed emotions that I share with you my decision to step down.”

Vacanti did not mention whether his decision has to do with his involvement in the disgraced papers on STAP cells which were published in British science journal “Nature” in January and retracted in July after critical errors were found.

“I plan to take a one-year sabbatical to contemplate my future goals, redirect my efforts and spend time doing some of the things that I enjoy most,” the e-mail says.

STAP, or stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency, was thought to be a potentially groundbreaking technique in the regenerative medicine.

The retraction of the papers in early July was followed by the recent suicide of another key author and scientist Yoshiki Sasai.

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