by Steven Ertelt
February 2, 2006
Seoul, South Korea (LifeNews.com) — Prosecutors form the South Korean government raided the home of disgraced scientist Hwang Woo-suk on Thursday to gather more information in their probe of whether he misused government funds in his team’s falsified embryonic stem cell research.
This is the second time government officials have searched Hwang’s home for evidence since Seoul National University, where his research team was based, declared virtually all of their embryonic stem cell research work fraudulent.
According to the Yonhap news agency, government prosecutors also search the homes of eight members of Hwang’s research group.
Also on Thursday, the South Korean government reported that Hwang’s team had used 2,221 human eggs for its experiments and that they came from 119 women. Some 66 women were paid for their egg donations.
Those figures contradict earlier claims from Hwang that his team used a small amount of donated eggs.
"There were serious ethics problems" in Hwang’s research, Lee Dong-ik, a professor at Catholic University of Korea and a member of the country’s bioethics commission, told the Associated Press.
The National Bioethics Deliberation Committee released the report today on the use of human eggs in research. It also said Hwang authorized and distributed some of the funds to women who were paid for their eggs.
The egg donations were made between November 2002 and December 2005 and it did not say if any donors were paid after January 2005, when a new law prohibiting that went into effect.
Lee pointed to previous charges that Hwang not only covered up egg donations made by junior researchers but coerced them to donate the eggs. One researcher was forced to submit to a medical procedure to collect her eggs after she spilled a petri dish.
The prosecutors are examining whether the scientists illegally purchased human eggs for their experiments.
They are also looking into whether Hwang’s team misused state funds for their research, which could carry a prison term of up to 10 years. Hwang is also accused of using some of the money to try to bribe one of his colleagues into not talking to the media about the false claims the team made.
"We will focus on the team’s acquisition of ova after the life science ethics law took effect in 2005," the prosecution source told Reuters.
Prosecutors are also looking at DNA from mice in Hwang’s labs to determine whether Hwang’s claims are true that other scientists sabotaged his work.
Hwang’s team first got into trouble in November when news surfaced showing two female members of his team donated their eggs for research, a breach of ethical protocol. Hwang had covered up the donations but finally admitted them.
Then Hwang’s colleagues began to report that claims of cloning human embryos and patient-specific embryonic stem cells were false.
Two papers published with those claims have been thrown out by the medical journal Science and a probe by Seoul National University, where Hwang’s teem was based, found the claims to be entirely fabricated.
Hwang had provided hope to advocates of embryonic stem cell research because one of the key problems with the research is its inability to overcome a patient’s immune system rejecting the embryonic stem cells.
Now that problem continues while adult stem cell research advances at a quick pace with dozens of cures and treatments having been achieved.
Hwang’s team received $43.41 million in funds from the South Korean government from 1995 to 2005 and Hwang himself was questioned on Friday by government auditors.