The Whitehead Institute of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) on Friday fired biologist David Sabatini for sexual harassment, as did the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), which supported his work.
“David Sabatini…is no longer associated with either the Whitehead Institute or the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, effective immediately,” the Whitehead Institute’s director Ruth Lehmann wrote in an email to staff this afternoon. An investigation by an outside law firm, she wrote, “found that Dr. Sabatini violated the Institute’s policies on sexual harassment among other policies unrelated to research misconduct.”
Her email added that the Whitehead Institute hired the firm Hinkley, Allen & Snyder to investigate after a campus climate survey conducted last winter “identified issues of particular concern in the Sabatini lab.”
Lehmann wrote that the firing will have “significant implications” for the 39 people who worked in the Sabatini lab, which focuses on the mechanisms that regulate growth and metabolism in mammals. All 39 will be meeting with Whitehead human resources personnel next week, she wrote, with the aim of transitioning them smoothly to other situations.
As a student, Sabatini discovered the mTOR kinase signaling pathway, a central regulator of growth and aging that doesn’t function properly in common diseases including cancer. He has continued to focus on the pathway, discovering many of its key components. In 2016, he was elected to the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, which has recently begun ejecting members whose institutions found them guilty of sexual harassment.
The Whitehead Institute, HHMI, and Sabatini did not immediately respond to emails seeking comment.
Lehmann was among several prominent biologists who published a letter in Science in 2017 arguing that US biomedical institutions are not doing enough to combat gender discrimination.
This is a developing story and will be updated.