by Steven Ertelt
March 1, 2006
Seoul, South Korea (LifeNews.com) — Government prosecutors said they plan to question disgraced embryonic stem cell researcher Hwang Woo-suk and one of his top research associates tomorrow. They are investigating whether Hwang and his team embezzled missions of dollars in taxpayer funds meant for the research, which was found to be totally falsified.
Authorities have questioned most of the people involved in Hwang’s team who would have information about the money and his fabricated research.
State auditors last month say that Hwang’s team failed to account for about $6.5 million ion public and private research dollars. Hwang may have embezzled as much as $2.57 million of the funds and made numerous transfers of research money into personal accounts.
Hwang has claimed other members of his team faked the research by substituting other embryonic stem cells with the patient-specific ones he claims were created.
However, probes by Seoul National University and the government have said the supposed embryonic stem cells never existed.
Their analysis is a huge setback for embryonic stem cell research because it means the controversial science still has to overcome patient rejection issues before it can come close to ever helping any patients.
While embryonic stem cells have yet to cure any patients, adult stem cell research has derived dozens of treatments for various diseases and conditions.
The prosecutors will question Hwang about his involvement in the faked research and how closely he collaborated with Gerald Schatten, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh.
Kim Sun-jong, one of Hwang’s research associates, will be questioned as well. Hwang says Kim may have been the one to switch the stem cells.
Speaking about the faked embryonic stem cells last week, Park Han-cheol of Seoul District Prosecutors’ Office, who is leading the Hwang probe, told the Korean Herald newspaper, "there is no possibility that NT-1 is a cloned somatic stem cell."
"There is no doubt about this in the scientific field," he added.
The NT-1 cell formed the basis of the cloning claims in the 2004 paper Hwang’s team published in the medical journal science that has been revoked. Hwang and his associates also claimed to have cloned a human embryo and a paper on that topic has been withdrawn as well.
According to the Herald, DNA analysis on NT-1 showed that eight of the 48 markers did not match the donor DNA from the ova, showing the cell could not be an identical cloned copy.
Park said the question is open to whether the scientists created the cell from a processes known as parthenogenesis, which may have given the researchers the false notion it had been cloned.
Hwang and his associates were stripped of their teaching positions at SNU and are prevented from conducting stem cell research there.