by Steven Ertelt
August 18, 2006
Seoul, South Korea (LifeNews.com) — Hwang Woo-Suk, the scientist who started an international scandal when his research team fabricated all of its embryonic stem cell research, is back in the cloning business. Hwang has opened a new lab with some of his colleagues where he will attempt to clone pigs.
As LifeNews.com reported yesterday, Hwang has resumed his work on animal cloning, which was the only success his research team had.
On Friday, the Ministry of Science and Technology said it gave Hwang approval to set up the laboratory, which will be called the Suam Biotechnology Institute Foundation.
The government indicated Hwang will resume his work with cloning pigs and organ transplants.
“Members of Hwang’s research team who took part in cloning dogs and cows have chosen to continue to work for [Seoul National University]," a ministry official told the Chosun Ilbo newspaper. "[B]ut most of the other members who worked in cloning pigs and human stem cells have opted to work with Hwang at the new foundation."
Hwang will direct two teams of researchers. One will try to produce genetically manipulated pigs whose organs don’t cause rejection issues when implanted into humans for medical purposes.
The other team will create pig stem cells and test them for safety issues before they are used in transplants.
According to the South Korean newspaper, Hwang’s team will include 15 graduate students and four research assistants who worked with him before. Some of the members of the team are those involved in faking embryonic stem cell research that got Hwang in trouble initially.
Hwang’s lawyer Lee Geon-haeng told Reuters that private supporters are financing the laboratory, which is off-limits to the media. It is a joint project with an unnamed medical company and Hwang was given $2.6 million to set it up.
“Anyone can set up such a foundation as long as it is properly equipped and its purpose of research is legitimate,” a ministry spokesperson told the AFP news agency.
Hwang’s license to conduct embryonic stem cell research has been revoked, so he won’t perform any experiments in that field. However, lee said Hwang wants to do embryonic stem cell research again in the future.
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.