Obokata’s mentor commits suicide

This is tragic and very sad and the “waste of it all” is appalling.

Yoshiki Sasai has committed suicide. He was Deputy Director of the Riken Labs and a co-author of the stem cell papers by Haruko Obokata which were later retracted because of her data fabrication. He was himself cleared of all wrong doing but he had gone out on a limb in her support when the accusations began to fly.

Retraction Watch has this statement from Nature:

This is a true tragedy for science and an immense loss to the research community.  Yoshiki Sasai was an exceptional scientist and he has left an extraordinary legacy of pioneering work across many fields within stem cell and developmental biology, including organogenesis and neurogenesis.  Our thoughts are with his family, friends and colleagues at this time.

Sasai’s own integrity was not in question but the Riken investigation criticised him for inadequate supervision.

Once Obokata’s data fabrications were established, he must have had a great struggle in determining the correct course of action to follow. I have just a very weak understanding of the shame and responsibility he must have felt as her sensei. But clearly it was sufficient to make him feel that suicide was the honourable course.


A mentor of a young scientist whose falsified research findings sparked a scandal that engulfed Japan’s scientific community died in an apparent suicide Aug. 5, Hyogo prefectural police said.

Yoshiki Sasai, 52, deputy director of the Riken Center for Developmental Biology (CDB) in Kobe, hanged himself in a facility related to the Institute of Biomedical Research and Innovation, also in Kobe, police said. He was pronounced dead at 11:03 a.m. at a nearby hospital.

Police sources said a suicide note was found near Sasai’s body. ……… 

Sasai was a co-author of articles on a phenomenon called the “stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency” (STAP), which initially appeared in the British scientific journal Nature in January.

However, the articles were later retracted due to extensive errors in the research.

A Riken investigative committee concluded that Haruko Obokata, 30, the main author of the articles, had fabricated and doctored illustrations in her research papers. The Riken committee also criticized Sasai for inadequately supervising Obokata.

Sasai appeared with Obokata at the January news conference to announce the findings about the STAP cells, saying he was proud of her wonderful discovery. …

However, after the Nature articles were retracted, he issued a statement saying: “I am deeply ashamed. It is now difficult to speak without doubt about the integrity of STAP cells.”

Sasai had a brilliant start to his research career. After graduating from the medical faculty of Kyoto University in 1986, he served as a visiting researcher at UCLA and became a Kyoto University professor when he was 36.

In 2000, he joined the Riken Center for Developmental Biology and became deputy director in April 2013.

His own research centered on the mechanism for creating nerve cells using embryonic stem cells, and he had articles published in such journals as Nature and Cell. He also received numerous awards for medical research.


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