November 23, 2020

The Niche

Knoepfler lab stem cell blog

Stem cell tragedy: Yoshiki Sasai (笹井芳樹) commits suicide

Dr. Yoshiki Sasai
Dr. Yoshiki Sasai (笹井芳樹) .

Dr. Yoshiki Sasai (笹井芳樹) former Deputy Director of the RIKEN CDB and a senior author on the STAP papers, has reportedly died from suicide.

Update: The Japan Times writes on this situation that Sasai was found hanging at RIKEN and there may have been a suicide note.

Dr. Sasai was a top scholar in the stem cell field. He published dozens of high-impact publications and was widely respected.

You can see some thoughts on the loss of Yoshiki Sasai from Scientific American here by Janet D. Stemwedel.

The Sasai lab has focused on many important stem cell and developmental biology projects. His research in many ways established the foundation for stem cell-based organoids, including those in particular of the nervous system.

This is a tragedy and thoughts go out to his family, friends, and lab members.

You can see a tribute I put together for Dr. Sasai here, which was signed by many members of the scientific community.

In 2015 I also did a piece more generally on why scientists commit suicide and perspectives on what that may teach us about problems with the culture of science.

I wondered if there was a way to address this problem:

“There’s not a whole lot of compassion in the community of science for scientists as actual people. I’m not sure if there’s a way to change that. It would be helpful if there were less stigma for scientists who have mental health issues. Science needs more resources available to scientists who may feel in a particularly hopeless situation at a certain time with nowhere to turn.

More research on suicide by scientists is needed as well. Remarkably there are almost no scientific articles on suicide by scientists. For instance, see this PubMed search result, which yielded just 4 articles out of the >23,000 with the title word “suicide”. So we are pretty much in the dark in terms of scientist suicides, trends, causes, and such. It seems to be one of those taboo topics that in reality needs more open and thoughtful discussion.”

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