Friday, December 16, 2005

Holy Schon, Batman, more fraudulent research published in Science?

Research by South Korean cloning pioneer Hwang Woo Suk that was reported in May 2005 in the journal Science, may be fraudulent according to one of the study’s co-authors, Roh Sung Il [head of the Mizmedi infertility clinic that provided the human ova for Prof Hwang’s research], who has charged that most, and possibly all, of the stem-cell cultures produced in the research were fabricated. Mr Roh said nine of the 11 stem cell lines were fake and the veracity of the other two was questionable.

However, Hwang Woo Suk on December 16 denied accusations that he faked his pioneering stem-cell research made by a colleague who said he learned the “shocking news” from Hwang himself. Nevertheless, because the study contains faulty data, Hwang said, he will ask the permission of his 24 co-authors to withdraw the study.

Hwang on December 16 said six of the 11 stem-cell lines had been destroyed because they were contaminated but the other five had been frozen and as soon as they were thawed, he could prove his research and discount Roh’s allegations.

He could provide proof his of discoveries within 10 days, he said, while admitting there had been some “human errors”.

Last month Dr Gerald Schatten of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center severed ties with Prof Hwang, citing ethical concerns. The Korean scientist apologised after conceding that, contrary to his earlier denials, two junior researchers had donated their eggs for his work - a violation of international ethics guidelines.

The above is based on a report from Khaleej Times Online and a report from
Financial Times.


LA Times report
is different from that of the khaleejtimes as to the current existence of the cell lines:

Hwang responded Dec. 16 by insisting that his results were real. However, the beleaguered researcher told a packed auditorium that the stem cells described in his study were no longer available because they had been contaminated and died.

The current availability of the cell lines is an important point.

The LA Times also reported:

In the meantime, Hwang said, he asked the journal Science, which published his research in May, to retract his 11-page study because it was so tarnished. [Also, a little different version from the khaleejtimes, the khaleejtimes version is likely correct.]

But Hwang's statements seemed to ensure that the uncertainty would continue.

"If it's true, it's going to go down as probably the biggest scandal in science," said Insoo Hyun, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, who spent this summer in Hwang's lab. [Hmmm, what about Jan-Hendrik Schon?]

The accusations may be a setback for those who had hoped Hwang's work would lead to cures for patients suffering from spinal cord injuries, strokes and such diseases as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and diabetes.

It is also considered an embarrassment to South Korea, where Hwang is regarded as a national hero for propelling the country to the forefront of stem cell research.

Hwang, 53, rose to prominence in February 2004, when he published a paper describing the creation of the first cloned human embryo.

The delicate procedure involves squeezing the genetic material out of a human egg and replacing it with DNA from an adult cell.

The divergences between the reporting of the khaleejtimes and the LA Times are significant, and need to be clarified.

A report in the Washington Post deals with false publication issue.

Editors at Science said yesterday that they had received a formal request for retraction from Hwang and Gerald P. Schatten of the University of Pittsburgh, the sole American author on the paper. "After analyzing the data our team concluded that the data . . . could not be trusted," the request said, according to Donald Kennedy, Science's editor in chief.

Journal policy demands that every author agree to such a request and sign on to a statement detailing what was wrong with the paper, Kennedy said, adding that Hwang has informed the journal that he is undertaking that task now.

"It is clear the authors are going to need to provide more details as to where the errors lie and how they arose," Kennedy said, expressing hope that such a document might reveal the truth behind the crossfire of allegations. Seoul National University and the University of Pittsburgh are conducting investigations.

Kennedy defended the journal's review process, saying innocent errors and even fraud can be very difficult to detect in a manuscript. At some point, he said, a journal must take scientists' reports at face value with the knowledge that errors will typically become apparent as others try to duplicate the work.

He said the Hwang-Schatten paper had not been rushed into print but had in fact been analyzed in detail because its findings marked a major first.

"Obviously . . . a paper that apparently achieves a result that others have tried to get and failed gets subjected to especially careful scrutiny, and I think our peer reviewers gave it that," Kennedy said in a conference call with reporters.

The allegations of fraud relate to some of the most notable biomedical research findings of the past several years, in which Hwang described his team's successful derivation of prized embryonic stem cells from cloned human embryos.

Stem cells, which grow inside days-old embryos, have the capacity to morph into virtually every kind of cell in the body and hold promise as all-purpose replacement parts for patients ailing from any number of diseases. Although many teams around the world have isolated stem cells from conventional human embryos created through the fusion of sperm and egg, no one had done so with cloned human embryos.

The current storm involves a report published in May that claimed the creation of 11 new stem cell cultures, or lines, from cloned embryos with success rates much higher than in the 2004 report -- an improvement in efficiency crucial to the approach becoming medically practical. Among the potential problems are photographs purporting to show different cell lines that instead appear to be copies of a single photo, and mechanical tracings that appear to have been altered or hand drawn.

Earlier this week, Roh claimed that Hwang ordered underlings to fake the photographic evidence and other data. He also claims that most or all of the 11 cell lines do not exist. Hwang has already conceded that some photos were mistakenly substituted for others, but he has repeatedly denied any effort to overstate his accomplishments.

A later report in Time is more in line with that in the khaleejtimes than the LA Times:

Remaining cell line issue:
His team is thawing five frozen stem cell lines and conducting DNA analysis to verify that he was indeed successful in using cloning techniques to extract stem cells from patients with diseases; those results will be available in 10 days. After that, Hwang will have either answered his critics or he'll have even more questions to face.

Retraction issue:
While Hwang defends his credibility, he admitted to making "a lot of mistakes" and being "negligent in maintaining the stem cells." He also asked Science to withdraw his paper because of these lapses may have compromised his data. Editors at Science confirmed that they have received requests from both Hwang and a co-author, Dr. Gerald Schatten of the University of Pittsburgh, to withdraw the paper. The journal requires all 25 co-authors to agree to a retraction, and Hwang said the remaining requests were forthcoming.

Fraudulent publication issue:
But Hwang did not specifically address the most serious charge which aired on the Korean network MBC-TV on Thursday night. In an interview, one of his junior researchers claimed that Hwang had asked him to turn two or three stem cell lines into 11 by photographing them repeatedly for submission to Science.
[Recall that Jan-Hendrik Schon used the same graphs in different publications to represent different data.]
Hwang acknowledged that the images published in Science were problematic, but provided his own explanation: that the stem cells were somehow mismanaged or possibly switched.

The journal Science had published several papers by Bell Labs researcher Jan-Hendrik Schon which were based on fabricated data. Bell Labs investigated, and upon conclusion of the investigation, Schon was fired. His Ph.D. was later revoked by the University of Konstanz.

from abcnet [Australia]:

The journal Science, which published the research, says it's yet to hear from the Korean scientist himself.

But the editors of Scientific American have immediately removed Dr Hwang from the honoured position as Research Leader of the Year. They've described his alleged fraud as an "unforgivable offence".

Professor of Stem Cell Sciences at Melbourne University and Director of the International Stem Cell Research Society, Alan Trounson, says he had already called for a review of Dr Hwang's study.

ALAN TROUNSON: We felt that the work that Dr Hwang and his colleagues had been doing should be subject to an international independent review, basically to help him if in fact he was being besieged by allegations, but also to reassure the community that we actually care about the accuracy of the science that's being reported.

MICHAEL VINCENT: You've met him personally, what sort of a person is he? What sort of a scientist is he, given that he is regarded as almost a national hero in South Korea?

ALAN TROUNSON: Well he's a very gentle man and he's a very affable character. He has a good, very good reputation in animal reproductive medicine, which includes animal cloning.

So I've known him for many years, and so I'm very surprised that these allegations have been made and apparently are true.

MICHAEL VINCENT: Dr Hwang has courted controversy before.

Last month he was forced to resign his main post as head of the World Stem Cell Hub after it was revealed that some of the eggs used in his research had been donated by female staff members, breaching international guidelines.

Now Dr Hwang is accused of faking at least nine out of 11 examples of research designed to show patient-specific stem cell lines could be cultivated.

South Korea's biotech stocks plunged by their maximum daily limit, 15 per cent, on the reports. But the damage goes further.



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