South Korea U. Investigates Hwang Woo-suk’s Stem Cell Research

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Dec 18, 2005   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

South Korea U. Investigates Hwang Woo-suk’s Stem Cell Research Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt Editor
December 18, 2005

Seoul, South Korea ( — South Korean University began its investigation into the fraudulent embryonic stem cell research conducted by human cloning scientist Hwang Woo-suk and his research team. Hwang’s team, in a May article published in Science medical journal, argued it had overcome a significant hurdle for embryonic stem cells by cloning patient-specific cells.

Sealed off in his SNU office, where is a professor of veterinary medicine, Hwang answered questions from Chairman Chung Myung-hee and nine members of the panel the University put together.

Last week, he acknowledged there were "fatal errors" in the research paper — more than duplicated photographs of the same stem cells.

Though a top associate of Hwang’s contended all but two of the 11 embryonic stem cell lines were fabricated and the authenticity of the remaining lines were unknown, Hwang defended the research and claimed he could prove some of it was true.

SNU officials released a statement Sunday saying they were also questioning Hwang’s colleagues and reviewing their work. Some 20 researchers have been questioned already.

The panel planned to begin preliminary investigations now and an in-depth probe later, but it decided to conduct both investigations at the same time.

"We decided that preliminary investigations are unnecessary, because Hwang and Administrator Roh Sung-il of MizMedi Hospital have made different statements, and Hwang already admitted manipulating the paper," one official told the Donga newspaper in South Korea.

The committee will look into the problems associated with the duplicated photos and DNA fingerprinted published in the Science paper as well as looking at the actual research results. The committee will conduct tests on five embryonic stem cell lines to determine if Hwang’s claims are true.

Kim Seon-jong, another key Hwang associate, admitted over the weekend to the Korean Herald newspaper that he duplicated pictures for the Science article from just two of the embryonic stem cell lines. Kim said Hwang asked him to do that.

"At Hwang’s instruction, I made the pictures of the 11 stem cell lines with the No. 2 and No. 3 stem cell lines," Kim said during the interview. "I did something that I shouldn’t have done, so I will take all responsibility."

Earlier, Hwang admitted he lied about and tried to cover up the human egg donations made by two female researchers on his team.

The South Korea controversy has brought embryonic stem cell research under an international cloud and pro-life advocates say it points to the unethical concerns they’ve had all along.