Hwang Woo-Suk Back in Laboratory, Won’t Do Embryonic Stem Cell Research

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Aug 17, 2006   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Hwang Woo-Suk Back in Laboratory, Won’t Do Embryonic Stem Cell Research

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by Steven Ertelt
LifeNews.com Editor
August 17, 2006

Seoul, South Korea (LifeNews.com) — Disgraced South Korean scientist Hwang Woo-Suk is back in a laboratory. He was the head of the team responsible for faking key embryonic stem cell research experiments supposedly showing advances in the controversial field but he apparently won’t be engaging in that science now.

Hwang has resumed his work on animal cloning, which was the only success his research team had. He was responsible for cloning the world’s first dog, an Afghan hound named Snuppy.

Hwang’s lawyer Lee Geon-haeng told Reuters, "Hwang has opened a biological research facility in southern Seoul earlier this month and is working with about 30 of his former lab associates."

"His license to conduct human embryonic stem cell research has been revoked so his team will not do work in that field," Lee added.

Lee said private supporters are financing the laboratory, which is off-limits to the media.

However, Hwang’s decision to head back to the lab may be short lived.

Hwang is still in the middle of a trial in which the South Korean government has accused him of embezzling state and private funds intended for research. He was indicted in May for allegedly embezzling more than $850,000. If convicted, he faces at least three years in prison.

In July, he admitted in court 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.

Hwang’s team claimed to have cloned a human embryo and to have created patient specific embryonic stem cells. The latter claim is important because embryonic stem cells have had problems overcoming immune system rejection issues.

Had the team overcome that problem, embryonic stem cells may be more likely to someday provide cures for patients. As a result, embryonic stem cell research continues to be a long way from ever providing real hope for patients with a wide range of diseases and conditions.

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. "I didn’t issue concrete orders but I accept broad responsibility [for the faked paper]."

Hwang may also have a hard time conducting any further research because medical papers are unlikely to ever publish another paper in which he is involved.