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Hwang dismissed from University post

27 March 2006
By BioNews
Appeared in BioNews 351

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 cells (ES cells). Six other professors and co-authors on two Science papers published by the group - now formally retracted - will not be fired, but are set to face criminal charges alongside Hwang. Four of the six have also been suspended for three months, while the other two professors received a one-month pay cut.

Hwang's dismissal means that he is banned from taking up any government-funded research or teaching post for up to five years, and will receive only half his retirement money. 'The professors fundamentally abandoned honesty and sincerity ... and caused the fall in the school's honour and the country's international confidence', the university said in a statement. Hwang was also stripped of his title of 'Supreme Scientist' last week, an award bestowed upon him by a government committee in June 2005. The Ministry of Science and Technology said that all seven members of the committee who were present at the meeting, out of a total of ten, agreed to strip Hwang of the title.

The SNU scientists claimed in 2004 that they had created the world's first ES cell line from a cloned human embryo. But an investigation lead by SNU concluded in January that no such cell line exists. The finding completed Hwang's downfall, after a previous announcement that 11 ES cell lines genetically matched to patients, published last year, were also fabricated. 'As the paper turned out to be a bogus, the panel cancelled the title', said Ministry official Lee Han-Kuk.

Meanwhile, the special investigative team of Seoul's Central Prosecutor's Office has said that the initial contamination of the team's ES cells was not deliberate, as first thought. According to a report in Science, it actually arose from 'accidents' by the researchers. However, the prosecutors are still investigating whether stem cells from Hwang's project were intentionally switched with those from MizMedi Hospital, which collaborated on the work. The investigations, which are also looking at how Hwang spent state and private funds, are expected to conclude early next month.

SOURCES & REFERENCES
Discredited South Korean stem cell expert loses last honour
Yahoo Daily News |  22 March 2006
Seoul National University Dismisses Hwang
Science Now |  20 March 2006
South Korea cloning expert fired
BBC News Online |  20 March 2006
South Korea's disgraced cloning expert fired from university
Yahoo Daily News |  20 March 2006
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