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South Korean team faked all human stem cell work

12 January 2006
By BioNews
Appeared in BioNews 341

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 cell(ES cell) line from a cloned human embryo. But an investigation lead by SNU has found that no such cell line exists. The finding completes Hwang's downfall, after last week's announcement that 11 ES cell lines genetically matched to patients, published last year, were also fabricated. However, his reputation as an expert in animal cloning remains intact - 'Snuppy' the Afghan hound, unveiled last year, appears to be a genuine clone.

Hwang's work had been hailed as a major advance towards the development of new therapies using ES cells genetically-matched to patients, via 'therapeutic cloning'. The discovery that the cell lines described in both his 2005 and 2004 Science papers were fakes has sent shockwaves through the scientific community. Science has now retracted both papers. The journal is also said to be considering changes to its procedure for accepting articles, including a requirement for statements from each author describing their contribution to the work.

The SNU panel carried out DNA fingerprinting analysis on the cell line described in the 2004 paper - named NT-1. The work, performed by three independent test centres, showed that the DNA profile of NT-1 was 'clearly different' to that of the anonymous female donor from which it was reportedly derived. The supposed photographs of NT-1 in the Science paper are in fact images of human ES cell lines derived from IVF embryos. The committee carried out further tests on NT-1, the results of which suggest it could originate from an embryo created by the fusion of an egg with a 'polar body', a cell produced during egg development. This could have triggered a process called parthenogenesis, in which an egg can start to grow and develop without being fertilised by a sperm.

The extensive SNU probe did, however, reveal that Snuppy - reported in the journal Nature last year - really is the world's first cloned dog. An independent investigation carried out by Nature also proves that Snuppy is identical to Tai, his genetic donor. Elaine Ostrander of the US National Human Genome Research Institute, who carried out the tests, says they have ruled out the possibilities that the dogs were simply highly inbred relations, or twins created by IVF. Ostrander suggests that such independent tests could become a routine part of future cloning research.

Hwang has apologised to South Koreans, at a televised press conference held on 12 January. He said he could not lift his head for shame, and would take responsibility for failing to check the data that was produced by his researchers. He claimed that his lab had produced about 100 cloned embryos, but the hospital responsible for developing them into stem cells had deceived him about the results.

Hwang and his colleagues are now barred from leaving the country, and could face criminal prosecution. The authors of the SNU report conclude that 'these individuals cannot be regarded to represent science in Korea', and add that 'the scandalous case of Woo Suk Hwang and cloned ES cells will not have a large impact on the effort of the scientific community in Korea'. Stephen Minger, a stem cell expert based at King's College in London, UK, says he and other admirers of Hwang are 'deeply saddened' by the revelations. But he stressed that 'it is important to remember that cloning and stem cells are different things, and that stem cell lines continue to be made without using nuclear transfer'.

All Hwang human cloning work fraudulent
The Scientist |  10 January 2006
Hwang faked all research on human stem cells
New Scientist |  10 January 2006
Journal to Examine How It Reviewed Articles
The New York Times |  11 January 2006
Summary of the final report on Hwang's research allegation
Seoul National University |  10 January 2006
3 May 2009 - by Heidi Colleran 
South Korea's Presidential Committee on Bioethics has granted the first human embryonic stem (ES) cell research licence since their preeminent research scientist fell spectacularly from grace amidst allegations of scientific fraud and embezzlement, over three years ago. Cha Medical Center in the South Korean capital, Seoul, has...
17 April 2007 - by MacKenna Roberts 
The journal Cloning and Stem Cells has announced on its website that it has pulled a scientific research paper from publication, pending the outcome of an investigation into the research data's accuracy. The research was submitted by a team of researchers at Seoul National University (SNU) led...
4 December 2006 - by Heidi Nicholl 
Science, the journal which published fraudulent stem cell research by disgraced Korean scientist Woo Suk Hwang, has announced the results of a committee set up to review the editorial procedures that allowed the work to be published and to advise on how to avoid similar mistakes in...
20 August 2006 - by Heidi Nicholl 
Hwang Woo-Suk, the Korean scientist at the centre of the faked cloning scandal last year, has returned to the lab and resumed his research on animals. Hwang, who was sacked from his position at Seoul National University following the scandal, is thought to have secured private funding...
3 July 2006 - by Dr Jess Buxton 
South Korean stem cell scientist Woo Suk Hwang, currently facing charges of fraud and embezzlement, is set to resume animal cloning research as early as next month. Hwang, who could spend up to 10 years in prison if convicted, is going to set up a new...
7 January 2006 - by BioNews 
An investigation into the work of South Korean stem cell scientist Woo Suk Hwang and his team has concluded that they did not create any cloned embryo stem (ES) cell-lines genetically-matched to patients, as reported in their much-feted Science paper of last year. The revelations have sent shockwaves through the...
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...
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