Scandal-hit research scientist commits suicide in research centre

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 05 August, 2014, 10:41pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 06 August, 2014, 2:47am

A renowned Japanese stem-cell scientist who co-wrote research that was later retracted in an embarrassing scandal has been found dead in an apparent suicide, police said yesterday.

The body of Yoshiki Sasai, 52, was discovered hanging inside the stairwell of a building that houses the Riken Centre for Developmental Biology, one of the country's most prestigious scientific research institutions, in the western city of Kobe.

"Yoshiki Sasai was discovered hanging on Tuesday morning inside one of Riken's research buildings and, after being sent to hospital, he was confirmed dead at 11.03am," a spokesman for the Hyogo Prefectural police said.

"Police are investigating the case as a suspected suicide."

A Riken spokesman later confirmed Sasai's death was suicide, saying: "We were aware that [Sasai] had been mentally and physically exhausted."

He added that authorities discovered "farewell notes", and public broadcaster NHK reported that one was left for researcher Haruko Obokata.

Sasai mentored Obokata, 30, who unveiled a study earlier this year that was hailed as a "game-changer" in the quest to grow transplant tissue in the lab. But the feted research unravelled amid claims Obokata used fabricated data in her research.

Leading science journal Nature said last month that it had withdrawn the study after mistakes were discovered in some data published in two papers, and suggested some data had been manipulated.

In the aftermath of the scandal, Sasai was accused of failing to properly supervise Obokata. He later apologised.

The Riken spokesman said that Obokata had been told of her mentor's death. "I understand she was very shocked," he added.

Obokata's lawyer Hideo Miki declined to comment on Sasai's death and said he had no plan to issue a statement.

The withdrawn study's other co-author, Teruhiko Wakayama of the University of Yamanashi, did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

Obokata is taking part in new experiments aimed at verifying her earlier findings.

The young scientist has acknowledged mistakes were made but insisted the results of her study were still valid.

"It's extremely regrettable," Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said of Sasai's suicide. "Dr Sasai was a leading contributor in the field of regenerative medicine."

Additional reporting by Bloomberg



Send to a friend

To forward this article using your default email client (e.g. Outlook), click here.

Enter multiple addresses separated by commas(,)

For unlimited access to: SCMP Tablet Edition SCMP Mobile Edition 10-year news archive