HealthLawProf Blog

Editor: Katharine Van Tassel
Case Western Reserve University School of Law

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Verdict on South Korean Stem Cell "Breakthrough": Total Fabrication

This story gets more bizarre by the day.  As reported here last month, stem cell pioneer Hwang Woo Suk fessed up to ethical lapses in the course of his groundbreaking stem cell research -- specifically, some of the eggs used in his research came from junior researchers in his lab.  If not an outright ethical lapse, it was considered "ethically murky" enough (a) for him to lie about it and (b) for his American research partner (Dr. Gerald Schatten of the Univ. of Pittsburgh) to withdraw from the partnership. 

Lots of stories followed concerning sloppy data keeping.  Then came the bombshell.

It is now being reported by AP (courtesy of MSNBC) that

[a]n already disgraced scientist lied about all of the stem cell lines he claimed were matched to different patients through cloning, investigating researchers said in a new jolt to the shattered reputation of Hwang Woo-suk.

Thursday’s announcement all but ends the fraud investigation into one of three major cloning breakthroughs claimed by the one-time scientific superstar and national hero. Probes of Hwang’s two other groundbreaking experiments are still under way at Seoul National University where he worked before resigning in disgrace last week.

The latest news was one more disappointment to the scientific world, which had viewed Hwang’s achievements as holding great promise for treating people with a variety of ailments, from spinal cord injuries to Parkinson’s disease. . . .

In the experiment deemed fraudulent, Hwang had claimed in a paper published in May in the journal Science that he had created 11 colonies of human embryonic stem cells genetically matched to specific patients.

An investigative panel at the university reported last week that Hwang had faked the research on nine of the stem cell lines. On Thursday, it confirmed he also fabricated his research for the two remaining cell lines as well.

Before his fall from grace, Hwang enjoyed rock-star status in South Korea.  Now two other majore breakthroughs reported out of his lab -- the extraction of stem cells from cloned human embryos and the cloning of a dog -- are also under suspicion and review.

The original article in the June 17, 2005, issue of Science is here. To its credit, the journal has diligently reported on the disturbing reports of ethical lapses and on Dec. 23 published an expression of editorial concern over the possible lapses in connection with the June paper and another paper published out of the Hwang lab on March 12, 2004. [tm]

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