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$22K worth of lab equipment seized from former Yale researcher’s home

Erin Podolak

Former director of the Yale Center for High Throughput Cell Biology Lars Branden has been accused of stealing the equipment from his lab.

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In a June 5 search, Yale University police seized three boxes of laboratory equipment—allegedly stolen from the university and valued at $22,000—from the Woodbridge, CT home of Lars Branden, former director of the Yale Center for High Throughput Cell Biology. The search was part of a first-degree larceny investigation against Branden. He has not been charged with a crime.

The police were tipped off to the alleged theft by Branden’s estranged wife, Sara Branden, who still lives in the home. She provided the police with pictures of the equipment in the Brandens’ basement. According to the Yale Police Department, the equipment was marked with stickers that were the same as those used by Yale’s West Campus, where Lars Branden was employed from 2008–2009.

Lars Branden in his former lab at Yale. Source: Yale University School of Medicine

According to Branden, the incident was caused by confusion over whether or not he had Yale’s permission to store the items off site. “I had a release form from Yale regarding offsite storage of Yale property dated August 2008,” Branden told BioTechniques. “It was part of the problem of having a temporary laboratory and having to wait for the permanent laboratory with appropriate storage facilities for over two years.”

That confusion arose during the divorce proceedings between Braden and his wife, he said. He has been unable to access his home and anything stored there, which has delayed the return of the items to Yale. “When the incident occurred, I called Yale police on my own initiative and was informed that as far as they are concerned, the whole thing has been resolved,” said Branden.

Sara Branden believed that her husband had not been granted permission to store the items. According to court documents, she has also claimed that her husband has stolen $150,000 from the couple’s and her parents’ bank accounts. Sara Branden also claims that her husband, who is a Swedish native, married her in 2006 to obtain a green card.

Before coming to Yale, Branden worked at the Swedish Karolinska Institute and Columbia University. In 2008, Branden was recruited by Yale to help build the Center for High Throughput Cell Biology. Branden was second-in-command at the lab, reporting to executive director James Rothman who continues to lead the center. The laboratory is home to a multidisciplinary team of scientists developing methods to rapidly describe the functions of the 25,000 known protein-coding genes in the human genome.

In an interview with Yale Daily News in 2008 after the center opened, colleagues expressed admiration for the Branden group’s laid back and less competitive feel. “I was really lucky to get into Lars’ group,” senior cell culture biologist Ashima Bhan said at the time. “I don’t have words to describe the feelings I have for my team.”

In 2009, Branden left Yale. According to Branden’s wife, he was dismissed because of his behavior and threats made to colleagues. Branden said he wanted to change direction, and voluntarily left his post at Yale to dedicate more time to art.

Yale University representatives could not be reached for comment on the allegations against Branden.