Scientists: South Korea Scandal Damaging Embryonic Stem Cell Research

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Dec 30, 2005   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Scientists: South Korea Scandal Damaging Embryonic Stem Cell Research Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt Editor
December 30, 2005

Seoul, South Korea ( — That a scientist considered one of the top embryonic stem cell researchers in the world falsified virtually all of his research has damaged the credibility of an already highly controversial field, other researchers say.

Even before Hwang Woo-suk’s research team faked the creation of patient-specific embryonic stem cells, the research had come under fire because it involves the destruction of human life and hasn’t resulted in any of the promised cures for a host of diseases.

"The bottom line is that it’s a major disaster to our whole field because the expectations were so high and now we are back to square one," said Joseph Itskovitz, a stem cell researcher and director of the department of obstetrics and gynecology at Rambam Medical Center in Israel, told AP.

"This whole scandal is incredible given the scope of collusion that has to be involved," Glenn McGee, editor-in-chief of the American Journal of Bioethics, told United Press International.

"Even if it’s a minor error or data was exaggerated to get the research to market, it’s still likely that this will turn out to be not just a bad apple, but a poisoned apple," McGee explained.

"The level of scientific fraud is unprecedented because it involves so many co-conspirators and a separate commercial dimension. It doesn’t just tarnish science, it’s going to expose science to the charge of crass commercialism," McGee added.

Hwang’s research had given hope to other embryonic stem cell scientists because Hwang supposedly overcame one of the chief problems the embryonic stem cells have had in curing diseases — rejection by a patient’s immune system.

Laurie Zoloth, a professor at Northwestern University, said others held out hope that Hwang’s cloning of human embryos and their cells would lead to greater advances.

"The technical challenges were solved in theory but not in practice," Zoloth told Reuters. "Scientists have to go back to the beginning and search for a way to overcome that barrier. Now people will approach this with a lot more caution."