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Hwang to resume animal cloning research

3 July 2006
Appeared in BioNews 365

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 laboratory in Seoul, according to his lawyer Geon Haeng Lee. Thirty of his former assistants will join him in his new venture, which will be funded by private donors, since Hwang is forbidden from receiving any more public money.

Speaking last week, Lee said that Hwang feels that 'the only way to win people's forgiveness and reclaim his honour is to resume research and show accomplishments'. Hwang went on trial earlier this month, charged with accepting two billion won (about $2.1 million) in private donations based on his research into human embryonic stem cells (ES cells), which later turned out to be falsified, as well as embezzling at least 800 million won from government grants of an estimated 37 billion won. Five of Hwang's colleagues have also been charged in relation to the scandal.

In 2004, Hwang's team announced the creation of the world's first cloned human ES cell-line and, in 2005, reported, in the journal Science, the derivation of a further 11 cell-lines from 31 cloned embryos, using just 185 eggs. Both achievements were later discovered to have been faked. However, Snuppy, the world's first cloned dog - unveiled by the team in August 2005 - is thought to be a genuine clone, following an investigation lead by the journal Nature last year.

Hwang has admitted to inflating data for his research claims, but is adamant that he does have the technology to create human ES cell-lines. He is now expected to focus on animal cloning experiments, as he no longer holds a licence for human embryo research. 'By law, Hwang won't be able to start such research again', Kim Young-Ho, a South Korean Health Ministry official told the Washington Post. Other medical researchers point out that following the fraud scandal, it will be virtually impossible for Hwang to publish any research in a major scientific journal ever again.

SOURCES & REFERENCES
Disgraced cloning expert to resume research
New Scientist |  28 June 2006
Disgraced Scientist to Resume Research
The Washington Post |  27 June 2006
Disgraced South Korean scientist heads back to lab
Reuters |  27 June 2006
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