by Steven Ertelt
July 4, 2006
Seoul, South Korea (LifeNews.com) — Disgraced cloning scientist Hwang Woo-suk admitted in court on Tuesday that he ordered junior scientists on his research team to falsify data in two papers claiming to have made major advances in the unproven field of embryonic stem cell research. The comments came during a hearing in a trial on charges that Hwang embezzled donations meant for the studies.
Woo-suk’s team faked the entirety of their embryonic stem cell research and claimed to have cloned a human embryo and made patient-specific embryonic stem cells that would overcome immune system rejection issues that have plagued the researched.
Hwang admitted telling junior scientists to write the 2005 paper for the medical journal Science to make it appear that the cloned stem cells were based on 11 embryonic ones rather than the two original lines they had been using.
"I do not want to ignore or deny this as the chief person responsible for the research," Hwang testified, according to an AP report. "I didn’t issue concrete orders but I accept broad responsibility [for the faked paper]."
Hwang also said that, while he claims his share of the blame, he wants his junior researchers to be held accountable for the falsifications as well.
"I believed the test results brought to me by researchers that supported the findings in the papers," Hwang said. "Not all the responsibility for the fabrications lies with me."
However, one of his research team members, Sun Jong Kim, previously told the court he felt pressure from Hwang to alter the data and photographs used in the papers.
"It was definitely wrong," Hwang testified. "I have no intention to escape the overall responsibility, but I feel differently about the view that all responsibility should lie with me as one of over 30 authors" of the study.
"I admit to the suspicion of fabrication," he said. "It was clearly my wrongdoing, I admit it."
Not only were the supposed cloned embryonic stem cells not cloned from new embryonic stem cell lines, the two lines Hwang’s team started with were also fake and found to be from ordinary stem cells from fertilized eggs rather than cloned cells.
Hwang has previously indicated he faked some of the data in the published reports, which Science has officially withdrawn from its publication, and junior scientists also falsified some information on their own.
On Tuesday, Hwang said he falsified data given to University of Pittsburgh scientist Gerald Schatten before he weighed in on the paper.
During the hearing, Hwang claimed he did not violate a South Korean bioethics law that bans purchasing human eggs for research. He said he merely compensated a doctor who donates eggs for research "out of gratitude" rather than paying him directly for them.
Seoul National University, where Hwang was employed as a veterinarian professor, fired Hwang and his colleagues after an extensive probe found the entirety of their embryonic stem cell research was faked.
Hwang attacked SNU during the hearing.
"We still want to believe the veracity of the stem cell lines, which we hope will be verified by a world-renowned lab, not some incompetent committee from Seoul National University," Hwang said.
Hwang’s attorney, Lee Geon-haeng, said last month that Hwang plans to open a new laboratory in Seoul and will finance it with private donations since he is no longer eligible for public funding from the South Korean government.
Hwang was indicted in May for allegedly embezzling more than $850,000 in public and private funds for research. If convicted, he faces at least three years in prison.
The comments came on the second day of hearings before a three-judge panel at the Seoul Central District Court. There was a one-day hearing last month and another hearing is scheduled for July 25.