Sasai was an adviser to Haruko Obokata, the lead author of the controversial STAP cell papers.
The body of Yoshiki Sasai, 52, was found hanging from a staircase railing at the Riken Center for Developmental Biology, where he served as deputy director. According to the Kobe police, they received a call at 9 am reporting his body’s discovery. Sasai was taken to a nearby hospital, but doctors were unable to revive him.
According to Mainichi Japan, suicide notes were found on the desk of Sasai’s secretary. One of Sasai’s Riken colleagues said that Sasai had been receiving counseling since the STAP cell scandal broke.
The papers were published in January by the science journal Nature. After other scientists were unable to generate the STAP cells using the methods described in the papers, the first barrage of criticism began; following an investigation that ended in April, a Riken panel accused Obokata of plagiarism, doctoring images, and making up data. The papers were retracted by mutual consent in July.
According to the findings of a Riken committee, the deputy director was negligent in his duties as Obokata’s supervisor, particularly in failing to confirm the data used in the STAP papers. (Yoshiki Sasai, who had been a primary focus of media scrutiny over the past months, promoted Obokata within the Riken organization, but later disavowed any knowledge of her research as the scandal broke.) An independent panel had called for severe punishments for Obokata, Sasai, and several other of Obokata’s supervisors, and recommended that the Riken Center for Developmental Biology in Kobe be shut down.
Fallout from the developing scandal has been far-reaching, and this latest tragic turn is one more step in a series of events that have marred the reputation of high-level scientific research in Japan. Over the course of the scandal’s development, the media has gone from celebrating the photogenic scientist—news reports seemed just as fascinated by the research that Obokata was conducting as they were by her outfits and the Moomin decals that adorned her lab equipment—to mockery and disapproval, particularly in the tabloids. Most recently, the scientist, who is still conducting research to prove the existence of STAP cells, was chased by an NHK TV crew around a Kobe hotel as they tried to obtain a comment.
Main Image: Wikimedia Commons
Yoshiki Sasai, Haruko Obotaka, STAP cell scandal, Riken