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Key parts of S.Korea stem cell study faked/REUTERS


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Key parts of S.Korea stem cell study faked: co-author

Thu Dec 15, 2005 11:16 AM ET

By Cheon Jong-woo

SEOUL (Reuters) - Key parts of a landmark paper from South Korea's most renowned stem cell scientist were fabricated and the researcher is seeking to have the work withdrawn, a close collaborator told South Korean media on Thursday.

The daily newspaper Hankyoreh and three South Korean television networks quoted Roh Sung-il as saying that he, stem cell scientist Hwang Woo-suk and another co-author of the landmark 2005 Science paper on tailor-made stem cells had notified the journal they were withdrawing the paper.

"Professor Hwang admitted to fabrication," Roh said on MBC television. Roh, a hospital administrator and specialist in fertility studies, was referring to a meeting he said he had with Hwang earlier in the day.

Repeated attempts to reach Hwang and his other team members were not immediately successful. Reporters were gathered in sub-zero temperatures late at night at Seoul National University hospital to seek comment from Hwang or his team members.

Members of Hwang's team plan to hold a press conference on Friday morning, a team member said, adding he was not sure if Hwang would attend.

Another television network, KBS, quoted Roh as saying: "I agreed with Hwang to ask for it (the paper) to be withdrawn."

Roh told media nine of the 11 stem cell lines that were part of the tailored stem study paper were fabricated and the authenticity of the other two was questionable.

According to recent reports in South Korean media, some of the photographic images of the stem cells lines may have been manipulated to make it appear as if there were 11 separate lines.

An official at Science, a leading U.S. academic journal, said the publication had not yet been able to find any communication from Hwang.

"We cannot yet confirm these media reports," she said.

Hwang's research team has dismissed previous reports questioning his research and said its work was vetted by a rigorous system of peer review prior to publication.

On Tuesday, a U.S. stem cell expert who lent his name and credibility to South Korean cloning pioneers asked that his name be removed from their landmark scientific paper.

Dr. Gerald Schatten of the University of Pittsburgh asked Science to take his name off a human cloning study published by Hwang and colleagues at Seoul National University.

Hwang is best known in scientific circles for cloning the first human embryos for research and the landmark study published earlier this year about developing tailored stem cells that could lead one day to cures for ailments such as severe spinal cord injuries.

Hwang's team also created the world's first cloned dog.

Hwang has been at the center of a media storm since November 24 when he apologized for two junior women researchers donating their eggs for his work and for not releasing information about the incident promptly.

The international scientific community frowns on donations by researchers because of possible coercion.

Hwang -- who has spent time in hospital himself in recent days for apparent exhaustion -- is considered a hero in South Korea for bringing the country to the forefront of stem cell and cloning studies.

(Additional reporting by Jon Herskovitz and Jack Kim

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A follow-up:

S. Korean Stem Cell Researcher Defends Work

By KWANG-TAE KIM, Associated Press Writer

29 minutes ago

SEOUL, South Korea - A prominent South Korean scientist on Friday stood by his purported breakthroughs in stem cell technology amid accusations he falsified key evidence, but still requested that a landmark scientific article be withdrawn due to errors.

Hwang's article published by the journal Science in May purported to show how individual stem cell colonies were created for 11 patients through cloning — a key breakthrough that scientists hoped could eventually lead to finding cures for illnesses like diabetes and Parkinson's disease.

Hwang said he asked the journal to withdraw the report due to problems with the accompanying photos, apologizing for "fatal errors and loopholes in reporting the scientific accomplishment." Previously, Hwang's team told Science that some duplicate photos of the same stem cell colonies had accidentally been printed, but the journal's editors said the mistake didn't affect the findings.

Still, Hwang insisted the findings behind the article were sound, and that he would prove it in coming days.

"Our research team made patient-specific embryonic stem cells and we have the source technology to produce them," Hwang told a news conference.

Hwang's work has been under fire for weeks, but the latest round of questions came Thursday when a former collaborator accused him of pressuring a lab worker to forge evidence. Roh Sung-il, chairman of the board at Mizmedi Hospital and a co-author of the article, maintained Friday that Hwang still wasn't telling the truth.

"He's avoiding taking the responsibility that he should take," Roh said. He also questioned the validity of Hwang's claims that he created 11 stem cell colonies.

"Nine stem cells appear to be fake and two others are not confirmed yet," Roh told The Associated Press.

Hwang insisted earlier the 11 stem cell colonies were created "without 1 percent of doubt." He said some of the cells he created died after being contaminated, but that cells were now being unfrozen that would prove the validity of his work within 10 days.

But Roh said Hwang's attempts to prove the authenticity of the experiments wouldn't work. Roh said Hwang told him Thursday there were no embryonic stem cells remaining from the experiments because all the colonies died in the lab.

"What can I say if Hwang changes the remarks he made with his own mouth yesterday," Roh told AP.

University of Pittsburgh researcher Gerald Schatten has already asked that Science remove him as the senior author of the report, citing questions about the paper's accuracy. Donald Kennedy, editor of Science, said the journal welcomes inquiries on the article by authorities in Korea and at the University of Pittsburgh.

After an emergency meeting chaired by Prime Minister Lee Hae-chan, the South Korean government said it would wait to take further action until after an internal probe by Seoul National University, where Hwang works. The university announced Friday it had appointed a nine-member investigation panel — seven from within the university and two from other South Korean institutions — to look into the allegations.

Hwang is considered a national hero in South Korea and is strongly supported by the government, which has given him nearly $25 million for his research. The allegations have shocked the country, even sending shares on the South Korean stock market plummeting downward Friday morning.

Hwang's work has recently come under a cloud of suspicion. Last month, he publicly apologized after admitting that, despite earlier denials, he used eggs from two female scientists in his lab — a violation of international ethics guidelines.

Hwang has also stepped down as head of the World Stem Cell Hub, an international project launched in October aimed at finding treatments for incurable diseases.

Douglas Melton, co-director of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, said Thursday through a spokesman that he was "truly saddened" to hear the allegations against Hwang. But, he said, "stem cell science holds too much promise to allow this incident to detract from the careful, closely supervised work being done in the U.S."

Other scientists stressed Thursday that the fraud accusations against Hwang have not been proven. "We have to give him the benefit of the doubt right now," said cloning researcher Peter Mombaerts of Rockefeller University in New York.

He said Hwang and a colleague appeared confident and believable when top cloning researchers questioned them about the work at a scientific meeting that took place Nov. 9 before the accusations arose. "They withstood the test," Mombaerts said.

But if substantial fraud is proved, scientists said, it would cast doubt on Hwang's other work, including his report last year of the first cloned human embryos from which stem cells were extracted, and his announcement in August of the first cloning of a dog.

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