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Topic: Misconduct
September 2, 2014 | Posted By Zubin Master, PhD

Scientist Yoshiki Sasai, age 52, committed suicide and was found dead on August 5, 2014. Sasai was deputy director of the Center for Developmental Biology (CDB) at RIKEN in Kobe, Japan, and coauthor on two recently retracted Nature papers about an easier way to make induced pluripotent stem cells. The papers were retracted due to duplication and manipulation of images done by the main researcher and lead author on the two papers – Haruko Obokata. Although cleared of any direct involvement, Sasai was under immense pressure and heavily scrutinized by the media, public and peers. This involved speculation about Sasai’s intentions to orchestrate a media frenzy, and for being overly ambitious and motivated to win future grants overlooking the integrity of the science.

According to colleagues at RIKEN, Sasai was receiving counseling since the scandal broke headlines and he was also hospitalized for about a month in March (1). He was found hanging in a stairwell of a neighboring building and beside him were three letters addressed to CDB management, his laboratory, and Obokata. On August 12, Kazuhiro Nakamura, the family lawyer explained the contents of Sasai’s suicide note left for the family. Sasai was “worn out by the unjust bashing in the mass media and the responsibility he felt towards RIKEN and his laboratory” (2). But unsubstantiated claims in the media were not the only source of stress for Sasai. The speculation in tabloids might have also influenced how RIKEN and other colleagues behaved towards Sasai. In June, a report released by an independent RIKEN reform committee criticized CDB leaders for hyping the science and did not interview Sasai about such accusations. Their final recommendation was to dismantle CDB. According to the family lawyer, this was a tremendous shock for Sasai (2).

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our website. 

December 20, 2012 | Posted By Zubin Master, PhD

Last month, I discussed a research integrity case making international headlines of an iPS cell study conducted by a researcher Hisashi Moriguchi who had allegedly falsified or fabricated data, provided false institutional affiliation, plagiarized work, and had questionable publication practices. In this post, I want to outline a few of the lessons we can learn from this case.

I think Péter Kakuk said it best when he wrote that the Hwang cloning scandal “might shed light on the often neglected benefits of the 'social control of science'".  As a trained scientist, I can say that I used to believe that many of the safeguards felt more like impediments to research progress. As a bioethics researcher, I still feel there are kinks in the system of ethical oversight and there is evidence to support this view. However, I also believe that the ethical safeguards are in place to promote the responsible conduct of research and ensure that research is performed by upholding the utmost standards of integrity. In every issue of Nature or Science there is some report of research misconduct or misbehavior. There have been studies done in the US and many other nations about the frequency of misconduct. Yet despite such reports, I feel many scientists still believe there are too many research hurdles only to catch a few bad apples. This view needs to shift.

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our website.

November 16, 2012 | Posted By Zubin Master, PhD

This blog will have two parts. In this first entry, I present will discuss a recent case of stem cell fraud and the subsequent blog entry will discuss possible lessons to learn appearing next month.

The tale begins when Woo-Suk Hwang, a once celebrated hero of South Korea, claimed to have made the first, patient-specific human embryonic stem cell (hES) line through a technique called somatic cell nuclear transfer (commonly referred to as research or therapeutic cloning). This study was soon after proven to be fraudulent. Not to get into too many details, but this technique requires obtaining ova from women providers, enucleating its genetic material, and placing the nucleus from a somatic cell and parthenogenically activating the egg. This initiates embryonic development and at about day 3-4 of development (where the embryo is at the blastocyst stage), hES cells can be isolated from the inner cell mass of blastocysts. This incredible feat in stem cell research was published in Science in 2004 and another study in 2005. In 2006, Hwang was discredited for fabricating results and after an investigation, he was convicted for embezzlement and bioethical allegations. He embezzled approximately 830 million won (US $700,000) of government funds and apparently used 2,200 eggs obtained from his female postgraduate students and junior researchers. All wasted!

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our website.

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BIOETHICS TODAY is the blog of the Alden March Bioethics Institute, presenting topical and timely commentary on issues, trends, and breaking news in the broad arena of bioethics. BIOETHICS TODAY presents interviews, opinion pieces, and ongoing articles on health care policy, end-of-life decision making, emerging issues in genetics and genomics, procreative liberty and reproductive health, ethics in clinical trials, medicine and the media, distributive justice and health care delivery in developing nations, and the intersection of environmental conservation and bioethics.
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