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Schatten quits South Korean ES cell research team

14 November 2005
By BioNews
Appeared in BioNews 334

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 cell (ES cell) lines from cloned embryos. The same team announced in May that it had managed to derive the world's first ES cells that were genetically matched to injured or sick patients. In August it announced Snuppy, the world's first cloned dog.

Gerald Schatten, from Pittsburgh University in the US, claims that unethical working practices have led him to leave the team. Explaining his decision, Dr Schatten said that he would no longer work with the cloning and ES cell pioneer Professor Woo Suk Hwang, over allegations that his team used eggs taken from a junior scientist in violation of rules meant to prevent coercion of women.

The Seoul National University team, lead by Woo Suk Hwang and Shin Yong Moon, carried out their pioneering work on ES cells using 247 unfertilised eggs donated by 16 women. The researchers needed a large number of donated eggs, since the SCNT procedure - the 'cloning' technology used to create Dolly the sheep, which involves replacing the genetic material of an unfertilised egg cell with that of another adult body cell - is very inefficient. The team, which published its breakthrough in the journal Science early in 2004, created 30 cloned human embryos and derived ES cells from 20 of these, from which they managed to grow one human embryo stem (ES) cell line. But in May 2004, the origin of the 247 donated eggs used came under question. A news report published in the journal Nature claimed 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 also stated that she later called back, to say she had not donated eggs, 'blaming her poor English for a misunderstanding'.

At the time, Hwang, under pressure to reveal more details about how he recruited enough egg donors for the project, flatly denied the findings, saying that 'Nature's claim is totally groundless', and adding: 'I swear none of my students donated eggs for the research'. Now, Dr Schatten has told the Washington Post that he no longer believes Hwang. 'I now have information that leads me to believe he had misled me', he said, adding 'my trust has been shaken. I am sick at heart. I am not going to be able to collaborate with Woo Suk'.

Responding to Dr Schatten's sudden decision to end their working relationship, Hwang has again stated that his work meets strict government-imposed ethical guidelines, including those governing the donation of human eggs. He told reporters in Seoul that 'I know nothing but Schatten had announced separation', adding 'I will tell everything when the right time comes' before publicly thanking all the women who had given eggs for his projects. A team member said researchers will make an official announcement about their sources of human eggs within two or three days.

Last month Dr Schatten, alongside Hwang and his team, announced the establishment of a 'global hub' for stem-cell storage and research, a not-for-profit collaboration, based in South Korea, which will have satellite human embryo cloning laboratories in the US and the UK. A key member of Hwang's team says that the breakup of the collaboration with the US scientist will not hamper the project. 'Schatten's absence will not bring a problem in the world stem cell bank project', said Ahn Cu-rie, professor of Seoul National University and spokesperson for Hwang, adding 'There are many other scientists in the United States who want to work with us. And the stem cell bank is the only such organisation in the world, so there will be no snag in our research'.

Embryo scientist quits team over ethics fear
The Guardian |  14 November 2005
I Will Tell Everything Soon: Hwang
The Korea Times |  14 November 2005
US Researcher Pulls Out of Partnership With Hwang Woo-suk
The Korea Times |  13 November 2005
U.S. Scientist Leaves Joint Stem Cell Project: Alleged Ethical Breaches By South Korean Cited
The Washington Post |  11 November 2005
26 October 2009 - by Antony Starza-Allen 
A South Korean court has convicted disgraced stem cell scientist, Hwang Woo-Suk, of embezzling funds and purchasing human eggs for research, after a trial lasting over three years. Hwang was given a two-year sentence suspended for three years by the Seoul Central District Court last week...
27 March 2006 - by BioNews 
Seoul National University (SNU) has announced it will dismiss the discredited South Korean scientist Woo Suk Hwang, for his involvement in fabricating data during his work on human embryonic stem (ES) cells. Six other professors and co-authors on two Science papers published by the group - now formally retracted - will not...
13 February 2006 - by BioNews 
Seoul National University (SNU) has suspended the discredited South Korean scientist Woo Suk Hwang and six other professors in his team from their teaching and research posts. The scientists have yet to be formally punished by SNU, for faking data and breaching ethical standards in their work on human embryonic...
3 February 2006 - by BioNews 
South Korea's national bioethics committee has produced a report on the 'serious ethical problems' with the donated human eggs used in the recently discredited stem cell research carried out by Woo Suk Hwang and his team. Korea's National Bioethics Board (KNBB) says that the scientists, based at Seoul National University...
12 January 2006 - by BioNews 
The panel investigating the work of South Korean scientist Woo Suk Hwang has reported that further research published by his team was faked. The scientists, based at Seoul National University (SNU), claimed in 2004 that they had created the world's first embryonic stem (ES) cell line from a cloned human...
20 October 2005 - by BioNews 
An international consortium headed by South Korean stem cell scientist Woo Suk Hwang has announced the establishment of the World Stem Cell Hub. The consortium has set up an international bank of human embryonic stem (ES) cell lines at Seoul National University, which will have satellite laboratories in England, and...
5 August 2005 - by BioNews 
After much patience and perseverance, dogs can now officially be added to the list of animals, including sheep, cats and horses, that have been successfully cloned. Researchers in South Korea led by Professor Woo Suk Hwang - the team that created the world's first cloned human embryos - have cloned an Afghan...
6 June 2005 - by BioNews 
Woo Suk Hwang - head of the team that announced the creation of 11 patient-specific embryonic stem (ES) cell-lines recently - is planning to open an international stem cell bank in South Korea. The bank would mean that all existing human ES cell-lines would be in one place, enabling doctors to identify...
31 May 2005 - by Dr Jess Buxton 
New cell-based treatments for a range of illnesses came a step closer to reality recently, when a team of South Korean scientists announced they had created human embryonic stem (ES) cell lines genetically matched to 11 different patients. The success of Woo Suk Hwang and his colleagues confirmed his team's...
22 May 2005 - by BioNews 
The Korean team that created the first embryonic stem (ES) cell line from a cloned human embryo has now announced the creation of 11 new cell lines, this time from patients affected by disease or spinal injury. Woo Suk Hwang and his colleagues at Seoul National University have increased the...
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