Stem cell scientist found dead in apparent suicide

A senior Japanese stem cell scientist has died in an apparent suicide.

Yoshiki Sasai, who recently co-authored two controversial papers on stem cells, was found dead at his laboratory, the Riken Center for Developmental Biology in Kobe, Japan. dn26001-1_300

Riken's deputy director, Sasai was renowned for his ability to coax stem cells into becoming other types of cells. This year, however, his career has been under the spotlight. Sasai was a co-author on two research papers that claimed to produce embryonic stem cells called STAP from adult cells using acidMovie Camera. The papers were retracted from the journal Nature in July due to multiple errors.

Sasai, 52, was cleared of any direct involvement by a Riken investigation, but criticised for his failure to correctly edit the papers and for his supervision of lead author, Haruko Obokata, who was found guilty of misconduct in April.

In a letter published on 2 July, Sasai spoke of his deep regret that he was not able to identify the errors in the papers before publication. "Considering the discrepancies that have been pointed out recently... it has become increasingly difficult to call the STAP phenomenon even a promising hypothesis," he said. Experiments to clarify whether or not STAP cells do exist continue at Harvard and Riken.

Nature reports that a bag found at the scene contained three letters addressed to Riken management, Sasai's laboratory members and Obokata.

Philip Campbell, editor-in-chief of Nature said in a statement that Sasai's death 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. Our thoughts are with his family, friends and colleagues at this time."



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