Skip to main content

Death of Yoshiki Sasai

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.

Suicide is a deep-rooted reaction to disgrace in many cultures, and at least in pop-culture stereotypes Japanese culture is an outlier in this regard.

I cannot judge the over-all validity of those stereotypes, but they do naturally come to mind with news of the death of Yoshiki Sasai, deputy director of the Center for Development Biology, part of the Riken center, in Japan.

Sasai supervised recent research into stem cells that seemed for a brief heady time to constitute a great breakthrough. A younger scientist working under him got the lead-author credit on the key paper, but there was plenty of limelight to go around while it lasted.

The apparent breakthrough, in January of this year, was the discovery of stimuli, external stressors, that could trigger the return of specialized, a/k/a differentiated cells back to the "pluripotency" of the stem cell state. Their process involved bathing blood cells in acid at a specified temperature -- 37 C. My quick math tells me that's very close to 98.6 F, the figure traditionally seen as the "normal" human body temperature.

This seemed simple enough to do, which made the finding that much more startling -- but it made the fame fleeting, because other labs sought and failed to replicate the results of the supposedly simple procedure.

A little over a month ago, the lead author, Haruko Obokato, bowed to increasing pressure to retract the claims of the paper

Nobody that I know of has leveled a charge of conscious fraud regarding these claims. An editorial in NATURE, to which I've linked you in the above paragraph, refers rather to "sloppiness" in the "handling of data, in their analysis, or in the inadequate keeping of laboratory notes."

Now Sasai is gone. Let us spare a moment of silence for him, and hope the important work he and so many others around the world were and are doing on developmental biology is continued with great consequences.


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

England as a Raft?

In a lecture delivered in 1880, William James asked rhetorically, "Would England ... be the drifting raft she is now in European affairs if a Frederic the Great had inherited her throne instead of a Victoria, and if Messrs Bentham, Mill, Cobden, and Bright had all been born in Prussia?"

Beneath that, in a collection of such lectures later published under James' direction, was placed the footnote, "The reader will remember when this was written."

The suggestion of the bit about Bentham, Mill, etc. is that the utilitarians as a school helped render England ineffective as a European power, a drifting raft.

The footnote was added in 1897. So either James is suggesting that the baleful influence of Bentham, Mill etc wore off in the meantime or that he had over-estimated it.

Let's unpack this a bit.  What was happening in the period before 1880 that made England seem a drifting raft in European affairs, to a friendly though foreign observer (to the older brother…

Cancer Breakthrough

Hopeful news in recent days about an old and dear desideratum: a cure for cancer. Or at least for a cancer, and a nasty one at that.

The news comes about because investors in GlaxoSmithKline are greedy for profits, and has already inspired a bit of deregulation to boot. 

The FDA has paved the road for a speedy review of a new BCMA drug for multiple myeloma, essentially cancer of the bone marrow. This means that the US govt has removed some of the hurdles that would otherwise (by decision of the same govt) face a company trying to proceed with these trials expeditiously. 

This has been done because the Phase I clinical trial results have been very promising. The report I've seen indicates that details of these results will be shared with the world on Dec. 11 at the annual meeting of the American Society of Hematology. 

The European Medicines Agency has also given priority treatment to the drug in question. 

GSK's website identifies the drug at issue as "GSK2857916," althou…

Francesco Orsi

I thought briefly that I had found a contemporary philosopher whose views on ethics and meta-ethics checked all four key boxes. An ally all down the line.

The four, as regular readers of this blog may remember, are: cognitivism, intuitionism, consequentialism, pluralism. These represent the views that, respectively: some ethical judgments constitute knowledge; one important source for this knowledge consists of quasi-sensory non-inferential primary recognitions ("intuitions"); the right is logically dependent upon the good; and there exists an irreducible plurality of good.

Francesco Orsi seemed to believe all of these propositions. Here's his website and a link to one relevant paper:

https://sites.google.com/site/francescoorsi1/

https://jhaponline.org/jhap/article/view/3

What was better: Orsi is a young man. Born in 1980. A damned child! Has no memories of the age of disco!

So I emailed him asking if I was right that he believed all of those things. His answer: three out of …