Seminal stem-cell paper withdrawn

Introductory text copied a 2007 report without attribution, writes Zoë Corbyn

July 29, 2009

A research paper that made headlines around the world by reporting the creation of sperm from human stem cells has been withdrawn on the grounds that some of its introductory text was plagiarised.

The peer-reviewed paper, which received widespread media coverage earlier this month, was published online in the Stem Cells and Development journal on 7 July.

But a statement from the journal on 28 July says that the article, “In Vitro Derivation of Human Sperm from Embryonic Stem Cells”, had been retracted. Further details would “follow online and in a subsequent issue of the journal”, it adds.

The paper lists Karim Nayernia, a professor of stem-cell biology from the North East England Stem Cell Institute (NESCI) and the Institute of Human Genetics at Newcastle University, as the corresponding author.

In total it has 13 authors, eight of whom are part of the Newcastle team, including big-name stem-cell scientists such as Alison Murdoch, professor of reproductive medicine and head of department at NESCI, and Lyle Armstrong, senior lecturer in the Institute of Human Genetics.

Graham Parker, editor-in-chief of Stem Cells and Development, told ScienceInsider – the blog of the journal Science – that he received an email on 10 July from the editors of another journal, Biology of Reproduction, claiming that two paragraphs from the paper’s introduction had been copied without attribution from a review article it published in 2007.

Dr Parker said he then emailed Professor Nayernia asking for an explanation. When he was told that the offending text had been inserted by a postdoctoral fellow, he decided to retract the paper.

A statement from Newcastle says that the paper had been peer-reviewed by the journal and no questions had been raised about the research conducted or its conclusions.

It states: “The withdrawal relates to text in the introduction of an old version of the paper that was submitted in error. The text was copied without attribution to its original author by a research associate, Jae Ho Lee, who has since left the university. He has apologised to the authors for his mistake, and the name of Dr Lee has been removed from the first authorship.”

The statement adds: “It should be noted that the correct version of the manuscript, upon the request of the journal’s editor, had been immediately submitted to the journal during the process of proofreading. The paper will now be submitted to another peer-reviewed academic journal. The university will be further examining the supervision of research associates in the process of submission to an academic journal.”

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