Korean university says cloning claim faked
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Korean University Says Cloning Claim Faked
Jan 10 1:10 AM US/Eastern
By BO-MI LIM
Associated Press Writer
SEOUL, South Korea
The now-disgraced South Korean researcher who stunned the scientific community with his claim to have cloned human embryonic stem cells faked his results, relying on "fabricated data," his university said Tuesday.
The latest revelation doomed Hwang Woo-suk's reputation as a cloning pioneer, already damaged by the finding that the veterinarian's claim in 2005 to have developed 11 patient-specific stem cell lines was false.
Hwang "did not have any proof to show that cloned embryonic stem cells were ever created," an investigating panel at Seoul National University said in a report Tuesday, disputing claims in Hwang's 2004 paper in the journal Science purporting that he cloned a human embryo and extracted stem cells from it.
The panel found that Hwang's claims last year to have created the world's first cloned dog, however, were genuine. That achievement was not regarded as important as the cloning of human cells, however, as various animals had already been cloned.
Scientists hope to someday use human stem cells _ master cells that can grow into any body tissue _ to cure diseases such as Alzheimer's and diabetes.
Creating stem cells genetically matched to a specific patient would be a breakthrough because they would not be rejected by the patient's immune systems. But despite years of research, Hwang was the only person to claim success in extracting the cells from an embryo.
"The 2004 paper was written on fabricated data to show that the stem cells match the DNA of the provider although they didn't," the report said.
The reputation of Hwang _ once dubbed "The Pride of Korea" _ has eroded steadily in recent months with increasing questions about his work.
Last month, a devastating report by the university concluded that Hwang fabricated another article published in Science last year. The university's nine-member investigative panel said it could not find any of the 11 stem cell lines matched to patients, as Hwang had reported in that research.
Hwang conceded in November that two subordinate scientists had donated eggs and other women were paid to take fertility drugs to produce eggs for research. Both practices are viewed as coercive and unethical in the West.
Hwang, who said he would resign from the university after last month's report, has yet to do so. The university condemned the fabrications and suggested it would issue a punishment.
"This conduct cannot but be seen as an act that fools the whole scientific community and the public," Tuesday's report said. "Just based on the facts of the fabrications that have been disclosed, the penalty has to be severe."
The scandal is a setback for research in the field, but that may not last long, a South Korean scientist said.
"This can also serve as an opportunity for other scientists to expedite research in the area," said Park Se-pill, a stem cell scientist who heads the Maria Infertility Medical Institute at Seoul's Maria Hospital.
However research such as Hwang's is off-limits in many U.S. labs because the government restricts federal money for human embryonic stem cell experiments. Labs that depend on federal money cannot use it to create new embryonic cell lines as Hwang has claimed he did.
As he rose to international fame amid his now-discredited scientific advances, Hwang became a national hero in South Korea.
He was designated the country's first-ever "top scientist" in June by the government, winning special funding. The Foreign Ministry assigned a diplomat to assist him with international contacts. Korean Air even gave Hwang and his wife free first-class flights for a decade, calling the scientist a "national treasure."
South Korean prosecutors are preparing their own investigation, which would include Hwang's allegation that other researchers in his lab maliciously switched some of his stem cells. The university did not address Hwang's claim about the alleged switch and it was not immediately clear what action, if any, prosecutors planned.
South Korean media have said Hwang, who received massive government funding for his research, may also face charges of misappropriation of funds.
The researcher has claimed that he has the technology to clone stem cells, and that he could reproduce his experiments. Hwang, who has not made any public appearances since saying he would resign his faculty position last month, has been unreachable after changing his mobile phone number. His whereabouts are unknown.
Copyright 2005 The Associated Press.