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Questions over egg donors for cloned embryos

10 May 2004
By BioNews
Appeared in BioNews 257

The South Korean scientists who successfully extracted stem cells from cloned human embryos are now facing questions over the origin of the 247 donated eggs used in their experiments. The Seoul National University team, which published its breakthrough in the journal Science earlier this year, created 30 cloned human embryos. The researchers extracted stem cells from 20 of these, from which they managed to grow one human embryo stem cell (ES cell) line. But, according to a news report published in Nature, team leader Woo Suk Hwang is now under pressure to reveal more details about how he recruited egg donors for the project.

SCNT (somatic cell nuclear transfer), the 'cloning' technology used to create Dolly the sheep, involves replacing the genetic material of an unfertilised egg cell with that of another adult body cell. Scientists hope to use this approach to grow cloned human embryo stem cells, which could potentially produce genetically identical cell therapies for a range of incurable diseases.

The South Korean team, lead by Drs Woo Suk Hwang and Shin Yong Moon, carried out their work using 247 unfertilised eggs donated by 16 women. The researchers needed a large number of donated eggs, since the SCNT procedure is very inefficient. Jose Cibelli, a study co-author, is surprised that so many women were willing to donate eggs for the project. 'It's a painful procedure and there is risk involved', he told Nature, adding that 'it would never fly in the United States'. The Nature report says that PhD student Ja Min Koo originally said that the donors had included herself and another woman who worked in Hwang's laboratory. But the journal claims that she later called back, to say she had not donated eggs, 'blaming her poor English for a misunderstanding'.

Hwang flatly denies the findings. 'Nature's claim is totally groundless', he told the Korea Times, adding: 'I swear none of my students donated eggs for the research. For some reason, the journal is trying to undermine our study'.

Meanwhile, the UK's Human Fertilisation and Embryology (HFEA) has received its first application from scientists wanting to clone human embryos for medical research. A team at the Institute of Human Genetics in Newcastle has requested a licence to carry out therapeutic cloning research, in particular to develop new diabetes treatments. Team leader Alison Murdoch said last week that she would ask women attending IVF clinics to donate spare eggs for the project if, as expected, it is approved by the HFEA. The news follows the recent announcement by Ian Wilmut, who helped create Dolly the sheep, that he plans to apply for a licence to carry out therapeutic cloning for motor neurone disease research.

Cloning Scientist Rebuffs Nature Journal's Claim
The Korea Times |  9 May 2004
Korea's stem-cell stars dogged by suspicion of ethical breach
Nature |  6 April 2004
Scientists want to clone a human embryo in Britain
The Independent |  8 May 2004
Stem-cell research: Crunch time for Korea's cloners
Nature |  6 April 2004
19 December 2005 - by BioNews 
The computer of Korean embryonic stem (ES) cell research scientist Woo Suk Hwang has been seized by the university he used to work for as part of an investigation into the veracity of his work, after allegations were made about falsified data in his pioneering research. The celebrated paper, published...
9 December 2005 - by BioNews 
The University of Pittsburgh has begun an investigation into research carried out by Korean stem cell scientist Woo Suk Hwang and his former collaborator Gerald Schatten. The celebrated paper, published by Science earlier this year, described the derivation of 11 cloned human embryonic stem (ES) cell-lines from patients with diabetes...
24 November 2005 - by BioNews 
Woo Suk Hwang - head of the South Korean team that obtained the world's first embryonic stem (ES) cells from cloned human embryos - has quit his public positions after admitting that some eggs used in the work were provided by junior researchers and paid donors. The shock resignation follows a statement...
21 November 2005 - by BioNews 
The future of an international consortium aiming to advance human embryo stem (ES) cell research is looking increasingly uncertain, following allegations that its South Korean head, Woo Suk Hwang, used eggs donated by a junior researcher to create cell lines. On 12 November, Gerald Schatten, from Pittsburgh University in the...
14 November 2005 - by BioNews 
A leading American stem cell researcher has abruptly ended his 20 month long collaboration with the team of South Korean scientists famous for creating the world's first human embryonic stem (ES) cell lines from cloned embryos. The same team announced in May that it had managed to derive the world's...
23 April 2004 - by BioNews 
Professor Ian Wilmut, leader of the team that created Dolly the sheep, is applying for the UK's first licence to clone human embryos for stem cell research, saying it would be 'immoral' not to carry out such research. Cloning human embryos for medical research purposes - a procedure known as therapeutic...
23 February 2004 - by BioNews 
Scientists at the Roslin Institute in Scotland, who cloned Dolly the sheep, have confirmed their intention to apply for a license to derive cloned human embryo stem cells. Writing in New Scientist magazine last week, team leader Ian Wilmut says that he wants to clone cells from a patient with...
12 February 2004 - by BioNews 
Scientists in South Korea have extracted and grown stem cells from cloned, early human embryos, a breakthrough in 'therapeutic cloning' research. Using a modified version of the technique used to clone Dolly the sheep, the team, based at the Seoul National University, created 30 cloned human embryos. The researchers extracted...
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