The co-author of an infamous and controversial stem cell paper that was eventually retracted has died of an apparent suicide. (Via Getty Images)
Yoshiki Sasai, heralded as "the brainmaker" by the journal Nature in 2012, was found dead Tuesday in his research building. (Via NHK)
Sasai co-authored a stem cell paper released in January that claimed stem cells could be created using a new revolutionary method called STAP, or stimulus-triggered acquisition and pluripotency. (Via LiveScience)
The widely reported technique was too good to be true, and the paper was retracted in July after attempts to replicate the study failed and other researchers found signs of plagiarism and misconduct.
While Sasai was found not to have committed misconduct himself, the lead author and his protégé, Harujo Obokata, was eventaully found guilty of fabricating parts of the study. (Via YouTube / Jijineta dōga)
He issued an apology in early July saying he was "deeply ashamed" the research had to be retracted and that he didn't catch the errors.
As to whether the retractions and surrounding media attention played any role in his death, a spokesman for his lab told The Washington Post:
"It’s certainly possible, but I don’t know what else was going on his life, so it’s very hard to speculate. … He had the stress from the retractions and there was also the prospect that he would face disciplinary action due to the finding of research misconduct."
According to NHK, a Japanese broadcasting corporation, three letters were found inside a bag at the scene. One was addressed to a Center for Developmental Biology official, another to a lab member and the third to Obokata.
Sasai's loss was mourned by scientists around the world with a stem cell scientist in Boston telling The Boston Globe his death is a "huge loss" and that he was a "gifted scientist destined to continue to make momentous contributions".
And a Canadian doctor in Toronto told Nature that Sasai "was a rigorous and innovative scientist and his loss will be deeply felt."
Obokata is currently attempting to replicate the stem cell STAP findings while under video surveillance at the RIKEN lab.