Bioethics Blogs

Holding Institutions Responsible for Research Misconduct: the recent case of a death of stem cell scientist

This article is being published simultaneously on the Alden March Bioethics Institute blog, the Knoepfler Lab Stem Cell blog and Signals Blog

Scientist
Yoshiki Sasai, age 52, committed suicide and was found dead on August 5, 2014.
Sasai was deputy director of the Center for Developmental Biology (CDB) at
RIKEN in Kobe, Japan, and coauthor on two recently retracted Nature papers about an easier way to
make induced pluripotent stem cells. The papers were retracted due to duplication
and manipulation of images done by the main researcher and lead author on the
two papers – Haruko Obokata. Although cleared of any direct involvement, Sasai was
under immense pressure and heavily scrutinized by the media, public and peers. This
involved speculation about Sasai’s intentions to orchestrate a media frenzy,
and for being overly ambitious and motivated to win future grants overlooking
the integrity of the science.

According
to colleagues at RIKEN, Sasai was receiving counseling since the scandal broke headlines
and he was also hospitalized for about a month in March (1). He was found hanging
in a stairwell of a neighboring building and beside him were three letters
addressed to CDB management, his laboratory, and Obokata. On August 12,
Kazuhiro Nakamura, the family lawyer explained the contents of Sasai’s suicide
note left for the family. Sasai was “worn out by the unjust bashing in the mass
media and the responsibility he felt towards RIKEN and his laboratory” (2). But
unsubstantiated claims in the media were not the only source of stress for
Sasai. The speculation in tabloids might have also influenced how RIKEN and
other colleagues behaved towards Sasai.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.