Yoshiki Sasai, the Japanese scientist who was embroiled in a research scandal, has been found dead in what is being suspected to be a case of suicide.
On Tuesday, August 5, 52-year old Sasai was found suffering from a cardiac arrest by a security guard at RIKEN, a government-affiliated science institute in Kobe, Japan. Sasai was the deputy chief at RIKEN's Center for Developmental Biology. Sasai also had a rope around his neck. The security guard rushed the scientist to a hospital where he was declared dead.
"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 11:03 am," said a spokesman for the Hyogo Prefectural police to AFP. "Police are investigating the case as a suspected suicide."
Sasai had co-authored research papers on stem cell along with 30-year old Haruko Obokata. The study was initially lauded and welcomed as a "game changer" in the scientific community. The study revealed that the researchers had successfully managed to transform regular mouse cells into stem cells. This had apparently been achieved by exposing them to a slightly acidic environment. Stem cells can aid scientists in growing replacement tissues, which will be extremely useful in treating several diseases.
However, the study which was published in the journal Nature had to be retracted after errors were discovered in the data of the two published papers. There were other issues as well, including the claim that Obokata, who Sasai mentored, had deployed fictitious data in her research.
RIKEN too held Obokata, who was the main author, accountable for fabricating data. The inquest also focused on the role of two other employees and Sasai. However, they were not suspected of misconduct.
Since withdrawals of research papers is a rarity, the controversy brought plenty of embarrassment to the scientific research community in Japan. Sasai revealed at the time that he was "deeply ashamed" because of the controversy surrounding the papers.
According to the police, Sasai has left "farewell notes" which the authorities found. However, the content of the same has not been disclosed to the public. Broadcaster NHK has alleged that letters addressed to fellow researchers at RIKEN were left behind by Sasai, including one for Obokata.