Lawyers for fallen South Korean scientist Hwang Woo-suk yesterday called for additional tests to verify Hwang's insistence that his stem cell breakthroughs were genuine despite being discredited in a scandal over the falsified research behind them.
As Hwang's lawyers opened their defense in his trial over alleged misappropriation of public and private funds for forged research, they said they want a court order to retrieve samples of what Hwang claims to be the world's first cloned embryonic stem cells.
Seoul National University deemed them to be from mutated eggs, not cloned stem cells, after questions were raised about Hwang's breakthroughs at a university laboratory, which he reported in a 2004 article for the journal Science.
The school has refused to return the samples to Hwang after firing him earlier this year, Hwang's lawyer Jung Keun-hwa said.
"We have a plan to conduct more tests," Jung said in court.
Hwang believes that further tests could show that the samples are indeed genuine cloned stem cells, Jung said.
Hwang has maintained that anything that was falsified in his research results was done by researchers at his laboratory who deceived him into thinking the results were real.
In court yesterday, Hwang said that any allegations that he ordered his researchers to fabricate DNA test results were "a story like a novel."
"I didn't even know the means to fabricate DNA tests," Hwang said, claiming "it was very clear" that his researchers had lied to prosecutors.
He said he had never coerced his researchers into following unethical orders and that his researchers "were not the type of people who would have followed inappropriate orders even if they were told to."
Researchers have testified at previous hearings, however, that they couldn't question or disobey Hwang, who was senior to them.
Hwang is facing charges for allegedly accepting 2 billion won (US$2.1 million) in private donations based on the outcome of the falsified research and of embezzling about 800 million won in private and government research funds. If convicted, he faces at least three years in prison.
Hwang's claims of world-leading advances in the new field of stem cell research were discredited after revelations last year of ethics lapses that culminated in Hwang admitting that forged evidence was used for some of his academic papers.
At the last court hearing last month, lawyers for Hwang's associates facing similar charges began their defense.
Hwang's purported breakthroughs published in leading international science journals had thrust South Korea to the fore of stem-cell research, which some scientists believe could help create innovative new cures for untreatable diseases.
Stem cells are basic cells that can grow into all kinds of tissue, and cloning them could create a way for patients to be treated while minimizing risk of rejection.