South Korea President Wants Disgraced Stem Cell Research Scientist Back

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Dec 5, 2005   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

South Korea President Wants Disgraced Stem Cell Research Scientist Back Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt Editor
December 5, 2005

Seoul, South Korea ( — Embryonic stem cell research scientist Hwang Woo-suk may have created an international scandal for admitting he lied about egg donations made by female junior researchers, but the president of South Korea wants him back in the laboratory.

Hwang turned himself into a national hero in the Asian nation by drawing international attention for his human cloning and embryonic stem cell research. His work drew the praise of scientists and his decision to open an international stem cell bank prompted biotech firms and universities worldwide to partner with him.

Revelations that he covered up for members of his research team who unethically donated their own eggs for research caused those relationship bridges to collapse.

But South Korea President Roh Moo-hyun wants him back in the saddle.

Presidential spokesman Kim Man-soo told Reuters, "He is looking forward to Prof. Hwang returning to research as early as possible and giving hope to the number of patients suffering from incurable diseases who await the result of the research, as well as to the people in the country."

Roh said the South Korean government would continue to support Hwang’s research and provide him with substantial taxpayer backing.

"The president said he conveys his words of solace for the pain suffered by Prof. Hwang and his team during the course of their work," he told Reuters.

The World Stem Cell Hub, which opened on Oct. 19, currently has about 22,000 people registered to be test subjects for stem cell treatments. The hub was initially going to select 10 to begin research, but those studies have been put on hold as the American scientist who was to head the hub resigned over the ethical concerns. Numerous other scientists have pulled their support as well.

Government officials met yesterday to discuss the future of the hub, including financial support and whether or not Hwang should be reappointed as director.

Hwang’s research team also met Sunday, though with him, to determine what to do next and determined they need to try to regain their ethical credibility.

Despite the government support, other researchers in South Korea worry about the effect the scandal will have on them, including their efforts to be published in foreign medical journals.

"More Koreans are writing for foreign magazines and we’re worried about how this will affect us," Yang Yoon-sun, head of Medipost, a Seoul-based biotechnology firm, told the JoongAng Daily newspaper.

Hwang apologized last week for the ethical breaches but canceled a press conference planned for Sunday in which he said he would reveal "everything" about why he lied for his researchers, who didn’t want to reveal they made the egg donations.

However, South Korean television station MBC, which ran an investigative story that broke open the news, was planning on a second broadcast alleging that Hwang’s team may have lied about its embryonic stem cell research results. Instead it has apologized for too aggressively obtaining the information that led to the international furor.