Co-Author of Retracted Stem Cell Paper Commits Suicide

Yoshiki Sasai in April.
Yoshiki Sasai in April. – AFP/Getty Images

The co-author of two now-retracted papers on stem cell production committed suicide today. Yoshiki Sasai, 52, hanged himself from a staircase railing at the Riken Center for Developmental Biology in Kobe, Japan, where he was the co-director.

Sasai worked with Boston-area scientists on the papers, which were published in the scientific journal Nature in January. The work was seen as a revolutionary breakthrough in stem cell research; cells that had differentiated, or “chosen’’ what kind of cell they would be, could revert back to being stem cells, capable of becoming any type of cell. That would mean stem cells could be created without the controversial practice of “harvesting’’ them from human embryos.

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Dr. Charles Vacanti, of Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, and his brother, Dr. Martin Vacanti, were co-authors on one of the two papers, while Charles was a co-author on the second. But last month, Nature retracted both papers, noting that they had “several critical errors’’ and that one of the scientists involved in the research at the Riken Center, Haruko Obokata, had been found guilty of scientific misconduct and fabricating data by the Riken Center. Obokata had worked in Vacanti’s Brigham lab for several years.

Though Sasai was not personally accused of scientific misconduct, he oversaw Obokata’s work at the Riken Center and said when the papers were retracted that he felt “a deep responsibility for what has happened,’’ according to The Boston Globe.