Scientist: Hwang Didn’t Notice Faked Embryonic Stem Cell Research

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Sep 19, 2006   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Scientist: Hwang Ignored Faked Embryonic Stem Cell Research Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt Editor
September 19
, 2006

Seoul, South Korea ( — One of the members of Hwang Woo-suk’s embattled scientific team told a court hearing on Tuesday that he faked some of the embryonic stem cell research and that more research wouldn’t have been falsified had Hwang done something about it.

The researcher said Hwang knew about the falsified stem cells used in the studies but did nothing.

Kim Sun-jong, who has been charged by government prosecutors with tampering with a scientific study, told the court that he brought ordinary stem cells to Hwang’s lab and claimed they were the patient-specific embryonic stem cells Hwang’s team had been trying to clone.

Hwang, who has admitted he ordered some of the research to be faked, apparently noticed the cloned stem celles were dying but walked out of the lab after he saw the experiment had failed, Kim said.

According to a Reuters report, Kim said Hwang never asked why the embryonic stem cell experiment failed and asked no questions when he saw the failed line of cells had been replaced with new ones the next day.

"Hwang was elated, and everyone cheered," Kim said. He said he was under pressure from Hwang to produce results but never told Hwang what he did.

Kang Sung-keun, another member of the research team also in trial, said he realized data had been faked before Hwang’s team published two papers in the journal Science. He said he didn’t question Hwang about the false claims because Hwang was the senior scientist.

Lee Byeong-chun, a professor at Seoul National University, also knew the data had been faked before the papers were published.

"I was aware at the time of the possibility that data were being manipulated," he told the court, according to Reuters.

The comments came as defense attorneys for Hwang started their portion of the case. Hwang has been charged with embezzling about $850,000 in private and government research funds and faces up to ten years in prison as a result and another thre years for violating bioethics laws.

Five other colleagues face similar charges.

Hwang and his scientists were fired from Seoul National University over the fake embryonic stem cell claims and Hwang is now working at a private lab where he is conducting animal cloning research.

The faked research is important because Hwang’s team claimed to have created a cloned human embryo and cloned patient-specific embryonic stem cells that could overcome rejection issues by patients’ immune systems.

Because the studies were false, embryonic stem cell research still has significant hurdles to cross before the disputed cells ever have a chance of helping patients. Adult stem cell research has already produced dozens of treatments for various conditions.