Japanese scientist in research scandal found dead

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Japanese scientist in research scandal found dead
KOBE, JAPAN - AUGUST 05: (CHINA OUT, SOUTH KOREA OUT) The press is seen at the RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology on August 5, 2014 in Kobe, Japan. The police reported Yoshiki Sasai, deputy director of the Riken Center for Developmental Biology and one of the co-authors of a controversial research paper asserting the existence of STAP cells found hanged in the facility on August 5, 2014 with a suicide note in his bag. (Photo by The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images)
TOKYO, JAPAN - APRIL 16: (CHINA OUT, SOUTH KOREA OUT) Yoshiki Sasai, deputy director of the Riken Center for Developmental Biology, speaks during a news conference on April 16, 2014 in Tokyo, Japan. A mentor of embattled scientist Haruko Obokata, now at the center of a research controversy, took responsibility for inadequately supervising her on their research project on stem cells that was once hailed internationally as groundbreaking. However Sasai said that he believes in the existence of the 'stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency' (STAP) phenomenon. (Photo by The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images)
TOKYO, JAPAN - APRIL 16: (CHINA OUT, SOUTH KOREA OUT) Media reporters raise their hands to ask questions to Yoshiki Sasai (C), deputy director of the Riken Center for Developmental Biology, speaks during a news conference on April 16, 2014 in Tokyo, Japan. A mentor of embattled scientist Haruko Obokata, now at the center of a research controversy, took responsibility for inadequately supervising her on their research project on stem cells that was once hailed internationally as groundbreaking. However Sasai said that he believes in the existence of the 'stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency' (STAP) phenomenon. (Photo by The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images)
TOKYO, JAPAN - APRIL 16: (CHINA OUT, SOUTH KOREA OUT) Yoshiki Sasai, deputy director of the Riken Center for Developmental Biology, speaks during a news conference on April 16, 2014 in Tokyo, Japan. A mentor of embattled scientist Haruko Obokata, now at the center of a research controversy, took responsibility for inadequately supervising her on their research project on stem cells that was once hailed internationally as groundbreaking. However Sasai said that he believes in the existence of the 'stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency' (STAP) phenomenon. (Photo by The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images)
Yoshiki Sasai, supervisor of 30-year-old scientist Haruko Obokata of Riken Institute, bows at the beginning of a press conference in Tokyo on April 16, 2014. Obokata was feted as a modern-day Marie Curie after unveiling research that showed a simple way to re-programme adult cells to become a kind of stem cell, a breakthrough that could provide a ready supply of the base material for transplant tissue. But Riken has since distanced itself from the study, which was published in the British journal Nature, after it came to light that some of Obokata's data was faulty. AFP PHOTO/Toru YAMANAKA (Photo credit should read TORU YAMANAKA/AFP/Getty Images)
Yoshiki Sasai, supervisor of 30-year-old scientist Haruko Obokata of Riken Institute, answers questions during a press conference in Tokyo on April 16, 2014. Obokata was feted as a modern-day Marie Curie after unveiling research that showed a simple way to re-programme adult cells to become a kind of stem cell, a breakthrough that could provide a ready supply of the base material for transplant tissue. But Riken has since distanced itself from the study, which was published in the British journal Nature, after it came to light that some of Obokata's data was faulty. AFP PHOTO/Toru YAMANAKA (Photo credit should read TORU YAMANAKA/AFP/Getty Images)
KOBE, JAPAN - JANUARY 28: (CHINA OUT, SOUTH KOREA OUT) (from left) Biologist Haruko Obokata at the RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology and Deputy Director Yoshiki Sasai of the Riken Center for Developmental Biology explain their research group's discovery of a new type of pluripotent cell, so-called STAP cells, during a news conference on January 28, 2014 in Kobe, Japan. Obokata and her colleagues discovered a new method for creating pluripotent cells in mice. The cells are created by applying a small degree of stimulus, and those that are grown are not damaged through the process. (Photo by The Asahi Shimbun/The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images)
KOBE, JAPAN - JANUARY 28: (CHINA OUT, SOUTH KOREA OUT) (from left) Biologist Haruko Obokata at the RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology, Professor Teruhiko Wakayama of University of Yamanashi, Deputy Director Yoshiki Sasai of the Riken Center for Developmental Biology explain their research group's discovery of a new type of pluripotent cell, so-called STAP cells, during a news conference on January 28, 2014 in Kobe, Japan. Obokata and her colleagues discovered a new method for creating pluripotent cells in mice. The cells are created by applying a small degree of stimulus, and those that are grown are not damaged through the process. (Photo by The Asahi Shimbun/The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images)
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By MARI YAMAGUCHI

TOKYO (AP) - A senior Japanese scientist embroiled in a stem-cell research scandal died Tuesday in an apparent suicide, police said.

Yoshiki Sasai, who supervised and co-authored stem-cell research papers that had to be retracted due to falsified contents, was found suffering from cardiac arrest at the government-affiliated science institute RIKEN in Kobe, in western Japan, according to Hyogo prefectural police. Sasai, 52, was deputy chief of RIKEN's Center for Developmental Biology.

A security guard found him with a rope around his neck, according to RIKEN. Sasai was rushed to a hospital, but was pronounced dead two hours later.

Police and RIKEN said Sasai left what appeared to be suicide notes, but refused to disclose their contents.

RIKEN spokesman Satoru Kagaya told a news conference that Sasai had three letters with him, each addressed to Haruko Obokata, a co-author of the research papers, as well as senior members of RIKEN and fellow researchers. Two other notes addressed to RIKEN officials were on Sasai's secretary's desk.

Sasai's health had deteriorated over the past few months, and he had been receiving medical treatment. Kagaya said that Sasai started looking depressed in May, and that the two had hardly seen each other recently.

"He seemed exhausted. I could tell he was tired even on the phone," Kagaya said, referring to one of his last conversations with Sasai.

Sasai's team retracted the research papers from the British science journal Nature over Obokata's alleged malpractice, which she has contested. Retractions of papers in major scientific journals are extremely rare, and the scandal was a major embarrassment to Japanese scientific research.

Obokata was in shock when she heard the news of Sasai's death, Kagaya said. Obokata has been in and out of the hospital since the scandal due to her mental condition, and RIKEN has arranged a team of medical staff and colleagues to give her support, while monitoring her around the clock, he said.

In two papers published in Nature earlier this year, the researchers reported that they successfully transformed ordinary mouse cells into versatile stem cells by exposing them to a mildly acidic environment. Scientists hope to harness stem cells to grow replacement tissue for treating a variety of diseases.

RIKEN later held Obokata, a main author of the research, responsible for falsifying data. The investigation also focused on Sasai and two other employees, though the three were not accused of research misconduct.

Sasai had said he was "deeply ashamed" over the problems with the papers.

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