Cell Biologist David Sabatini Fired for Sexual Harassment

The researcher, known for his work on the mTOR signaling pathway, is no longer with MIT’s Whitehead Institute or HHMI following an investigation into his conduct.

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Shawna Williams

Shawna joined The Scientist in 2017 and is now a senior editor and news director. She holds a bachelor's degree in biochemistry from Colorado College and a graduate certificate and science communication from the University of California, Santa Cruz.

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Aug 22, 2021
David Sabatini
PORTER GIFFORD

Update (April 26, 2022): NYU Grossman School of Medicine is considering hiring David Sabatini, Science reports.

Update (April 4, 2022): David Sabatini resigned from MIT on Friday (April 1) after the university recommended that his tenure be revoked, The Boston Globe reports.

Update (October 21): Sabatini has filed a lawsuit against Ruth Lehmann, the Whitehead Institute, and a former colleague he claims made false allegations about him after he ended what he calls a consensual relationship, The Boston Globe reports.

David Sabatini, a cell biologist known for his discovery of mTOR kinase and his work on its associated signaling pathway, was fired from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and resigned from the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research Friday (August 20), Science reports. (Business Insider and The Boston Globe previously reported that Sabatini had been placed on leave.) According to an email posted on Twitter that is purported to be to Whitehead staff from its director, Ruth Lehmann, an investigation by a law firm “found that Dr. Sabatini violated the Institute’s policies on sexual harassment among other policies unrelated to research misconduct.” She wrote that the institute had hired the law firm to investigate Sabatini after an internal survey “identified issues of particular concern in the Sabatini Lab.” 

See “Dealing with Unethical or Illegal Conduct in Higher Education

In a 2012 interview with The Scientist, Sabatini recounted how he had discovered mTOR as a graduate student in the early 1990s while investigating the mechanisms of rapamycin, a compound from soil bacteria with various health effects. Sabatini found that the protein rapamycin targets in the body, mTOR, is a master regulator of protein translation, cell growth, and proliferation. He started his own lab at MIT’s Whitehead Institute in 1997, where he continued to study mTOR and its pathway. According to HHMI’s website, he had been funded by that organization since 2008. He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 2016. According to Business Insider, he was involved in founding several biotech companies, including Navitor, KSQ Therapeutics, and Raze Therapeutics. 

An HHMI spokesperson writes to Science that Sabatini violated the institute’s workplace behavior policy. An MIT spokesperson says in an email to Science that Sabatini is still a tenured professor there, but that the investigation “found violations of multiple Whitehead policies, including its sexual harassment policy. MIT’s senior administration is reviewing the report and determining next steps in response to these findings, up to and including revocation of tenure proceedings.”