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Inquiry into embryo stem cell research launched

9 December 2005
By BioNews
Appeared in BioNews 338

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 cell (ES cell)-lines from patients with diabetes, spinal injury or a blood disorder. Hwang has since notified the editors of Science about two corrections to the original paper, the latest of which was submitted on 4 December.

Hwang recently quit his public positions after admitting that his team had used eggs provided by junior researchers and paid donors. The shock resignation followed a statement by US scientist Gerald Schatten, in which he ended his 20 month collaboration with Hwang over the allegations. At the time, scientists around the world expressed sadness over the unethical sourcing of eggs by the Korean scientists, but insisted that their actions did not affect the scientific validity of their work.

Last month, Hwang told the Science editors that a table showing all 11 cell-lines were 'pluripotent' - capable of developing into any cell type - was inaccurate, and that only three of the cell-lines had actually passed this test. Then, on 4 December, he alerted the editors to duplicate images published online, which were supposed to show different cell-lines. These images were provided by Gerald Schatten, of Pittsburgh University, who received them from a student working in Hwang's laboratory. According to Katrina Kelner, Science deputy editor for life sciences, the duplicate pictures were not part of the main paper, but were sent in response to a request for higher-resolution images. 'From the information that we have so far, it seems there was an honest mistake', she said, adding 'we have no evidence there was any intent to deceive'.

A spokesperson for the University of Pittsburgh has said that its office of research integrity has now launched an inquiry into the matter. She said that Schatten and his team are 'carefully going through the data' to find out how the mistake might have happened, and added that Schatten would not comment during the investigation. Arthur Levine, the university's senior vice-chancellor for health sciences, called the inquiry 'somewhat unprecedented'. He said it was being carried out to 'reassure the public', and not because anyone had alleged misconduct.

Meanwhile, Seoul National University, where Hwang and his team carried out their research, has also announced that it will carry out an investigation into the validity of the research. The university is to establish a 10-member panel that will look at Hwang's original data, although it has not yet said whether independent tests will be conducted. This Monday, nearly three weeks after leaving his post and publicly apologising for 'ethical lapses', Hwang returned to his lab at the university to face the 'bigger questions'. Last week, it was reported that he was in hospital suffering from exhaustion.

Landmark Paper Has an Image Problem
Science |  9 December 2005
Pitt starts inquiry into technical problems in stem cell reports
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette |  8 December 2005
S.Korea stem cell pioneer back in lab, inquiry due
Reuters |  12 December 2005
TV tests call into question cloner's stem-cell success
Nature |  8 December 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...
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...
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...
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