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Unexpected breakthrough revealed from Hwang cloning scandal

6 August 2007
Appeared in BioNews 419

The disgraced South Korean stem cell scientist, Woo Suk Hwang, whose spectacular fall from grace dominated the newspaper headlines early last year, has been credited with 'accidentally' creating the world's first stem cells produced from an unfertilised human egg.

An international collaboration of scientists last week published their analysis of one of Hwang's cell lines, obtained prior to the scandal, in the journal Cell Stem Cell. Whilst conclusively confirming that it was not cloned, they discovered that the cell line came from an unfertilised egg, created through parthenogenesis. The process, which has since been successfully performed by other scientists, involves forcing the cell division of an egg without it being fertilised by sperm. Parthenogenesis occurs naturally in some animals, such as lizards, but not in humans.

'I think this is an extremely important-and solid-paper', commented stem cell researcher Robert Lanza. 'It conclusively proves that the stem cell line in question was not cloned as claimed, but rather was generated through parthenogenesis', he added. Some scientists consider the creation of a parthenote as equally important to cloning. 'I think this is every bit as exciting as the SCNT [the technique used in cloning] they were claiming', said Kent Vrana of Pennsylvania State University, 'Parthenotes by their very nature are nonviable embryos, so you're not destroying embryos, which has some ethical advantages'.

The news comes as a great irony after Hwang's claims to have created the first cloned embryo were exposed as fraudulent. Hwang's journals, previously published in the publication Science, were withdrawn, his findings discredited and the reputation of the once revered South Korean national hero left in ruins. Hwang also came under intense criticism for recruiting one of his female staff to act as the egg donor, breaching bioethical research guidelines. Hwang was sacked by Seoul National University but resumed research in August last year using animals, and cloned the world's first dog- Snuppy.

Commenting on Hwang's inadvertent discovery, Kent Vrana said: 'I think they were just so blinded by what they hoped to accomplish, they missed it'. It is hoped that parthenogenesis, like cloning, may provide a source of stem cells that are genetically identical to the DNA of the egg donor. George Daley, of the Children's Hospital Boston, who authored the study, expressed Hwang's misfortune: 'It's an unfortunate irony that they didn't know what they had...It would have been a very important discovery.'

Breakthrough stems from clone scandal
Herald Sun |  28 November 2021
Korean stem cells unmasked
Nature |  28 November 2021
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...
1 September 2009 - by Nishat Hyder 
Disgraced scientist, Hwang Woo-suk found last Monday that he faces a possible four year jail term for alleged embezzlement, and the violation of Korean bioethics law....
6 October 2008 - by MacKenna Roberts 
The Australian Patent Office, IP Australia, are expected to grant a patent to internationally disgraced South Korean Scientist Hwang Woo-Suk for his human cloning technology which he fraudulently claimed led to false scientific achievements in 2005. Hwang is one of 18 researchers named on the patent application...
4 August 2008 - by Antony Starza-Allen 
The South Korean Health Ministry has rejected a licence application to carry out stem cell research made by the company owned by disgraced stem cell scientist, Hwang Woo-Suk, citing 'ethical problems'. The Suam Biotech Research Foundation had requested approval last December to resume its research on human...
9 May 2007 - by Dr Jess Buxton 
The cloned grey wolves created by scientists at Seoul National University (SNU) are genuine, independent tests have shown. Questions over the animals were raised following the withdrawal of the scientific paper describing the achievement from the journal Cloning and Stem Cells. SNU launched an investigation of...
18 December 2006 - by Heidi Nicholl 
Researchers at the Children's Hospital Boston, have developed a technique in mice to derive stem cells from a single egg coaxed to divide. The technique of forcing an egg cell to begin division without fertilisation by a sperm cell - known as parthenogenesis - has been achieved before, but...
18 May 2006 - by Dr Kirsty Horsey 
South Korean stem cell scientist Woo Suk Hwang has been formally prosecuted on charges of fraud and embezzlement - if convicted he could spend up to 10 years in prison. He was charged with accepting two billion won (about $2.1 million) in private donations based on his...
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...
2 July 2005 - by Heidi Nicholl 
Scientists working in Italy have reported success in deriving human stem cell lines from eggs stimulated to divide without sperm. Embryos created from the process of parthenogenesis are known as parthenotes, and never normally develop beyond a few days. The team, from the University of Milan, developed...
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