Sat, Dec 24, 2005 - Page 1 News List

Stem-cell pioneer quits in disgrace

AGENCIES , SEOUL

South Korean researcher Hwang Woo-suk apologized yesterday and resigned from a university after the school announced that he fabricated results in stem-cell research that had raised hopes of new cures for hard-to-treat diseases.

A university panel, releasing initial findings of a probe, accused Hwang of damaging the scientific community with his deception, while South Korea's government rued the scandal surrounding the country's star scientist and said it may pull its funding for his research.

"I sincerely apologize to the people for creating a shock and disappointment," Hwang told reporters as he was leaving his office at Seoul National University, considered the country's top institution of higher learning.

"With an apologetic heart ... I step down as professor," he said.

However, Hwang still maintained that he had produced the technology to create patient-matched stem cells as he claimed to do in a May article in the journal Science.

"I emphasize that patient-specific stem cells belong to South Korea and you are going to see this," said Hwang, a veterinarian.

Earlier yesterday, a panel of Seoul National University experts said Hwang had faked results of at least nine of 11 stem cell lines he claimed to have created in the May paper -- the first confirmation of allegations that have cast a shadow over all his purported breakthroughs in cloning and stem-cell technology.

"This kind of error is a grave act that damages the foundation of science," the panel said.

The South Korean government, which had strongly supported Hwang and designated him the country's first "top scientist," said yesterday it was "miserable" over the reported results of the investigation and will start its own probe over ethics breaches.

recovery impossible

Choi Seong-sik, vice minister of science and technology, said it's impossible to recover money already spent on Hwang, a total 40.5 billion won (US$39.9 million) for research and facilities since 1998. But his ministry, which admitted errors in its handling of Hwang's projects, will look at ending other funding and withdraw the "top scientist" designation.

Still, the government said it would support other research.

The university panel said yesterday it found that "the laboratory data for 11 stem cell lines reported in the paper were all data made using two stem cell lines in total."

To create fake DNA results purporting to show a match, Hwang's team split cells from one patient into two test tubes for the analysis -- rather than actually match cloned cells to a patient's original cells, the university said.

``Based on these facts, the data in the Science paper cannot be some error from a simple mistake, but can only be seen as a deliberate fabrication to make it look like 11 stem-cell lines using results from just two,'' the panel said.

``There is no way but that Professor Hwang has been involved,'' the university's dean of research affairs, Roe Jung-hye told a news conference, adding that Hwang ``somewhat admits to this.''

The panel said DNA tests expected to be completed within a few days would confirm if the remaining two stem-cell lines it had found were actually successfully cloned from a patient.

The earlier claims of patient-matched stem cells were seen by scientists worldwide as a key step to creating tailored therapies for hard-to-treat diseases, such as paralysis or diabetes.

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