by Steven Ertelt
February 16, 2006
Seoul, South Korea (LifeNews.com) — A top associate of Hwang Woo-suk says American scientist Gerald Schatten suggested the research team should fake its embryonic stem cell research after discovering that the patient-specific embryonic stem cells they created were not surviving.
Schatten resigned from his partnership with Hwang in November of last year after learning that Hwang had covered up the human egg donations researchers on his team made for the experiments.
Prof. Kang Sung-geun of Seoul National University said Schatten, based at the University of Pittsburgh, was the one with the initial idea to fake the research.
Government prosecutors are currently investigating allegations that Hwang and his associates embezzled or misspent millions of dollars in taxpayer funds and private donations. They are also looking into Hwang’s claims that his colleagues sabatoged his research.
The prosecutors said Thursday that the Kang told them Schatten was involved in the faking of the embryonic stem cell research from the beginning. They said he co-wrote the now-revoked papers in the medical journal Science even though he knew the specified cells did not exist.
Park Han-cheol of Seoul District Prosecutors’ Office, who is leading the probe, told the Korean Herald newspaper, "We obtained a statement from Professor Kang who said he overheard a conversation between Hwang and Schatten during an academic conference."
Kang told prosecutors that Schatten said the paper should go ahead because the cells existed briefly, even though they were later contaminated.
"Kang said Hwang told Schatten that stem cells NT-4 through NT-7 were destroyed, who in turn said that since the cells were already once created, they should just be put into the paper," Park said.
That charge contradicts the findings of a Pitt investigation which found Schatten "shirked" his responsibilities but did not engage in misconduct.
The university said Schatten’s actions "do not constitute scientific wrongdoing," and that he "likely did not intentionally falsify or fabricate experimental data."
Prosecutor Park told the Herald, "We need to check the facts and then question Schatten on whether he did in fact suggest writing the research paper while knowing that the stem cells had been destroyed."
South Korean prosecutors have emailed a lengthy document asking about his involvement with Hwang’s team, but the Pitt professor has yet to return the survey.
"Schatten has not shown any intention of cooperating with us. So we decided to send him 136 questions through e-mail," said Park.
If Schatten doesn’t cooperate, South Korea could try to work with U.S. authorities to get him to South Korea to participate in the investigation, but Park said the process would take too long.