Thursday, December 29, 2005

Remaing two cell lines of Hwang declared fake by SNU panel

A panel from Seoul National University [SNU] investigating the human SCNT work of Hwang Woo-suk said last week at least nine of the 11 patient-specific stem cell lines reported this year in the journal Science [Vol. 308, p. 1777, June 17, 2005] were fabricated. On Thursday, December 29, the panel said the remaining two cell lines were also faked. The panel did not evaluate charges by Hwang that some of the cell lines had been switched. [AP]

The AP report of December 29 also noted:

"The panel couldn't find stem cells that match patients' DNA regarding the 2005 paper and it believes that Hwang's team doesn't have scientific data to prove that (such stem cells) were made," Roe Jung-hye, the university's dean of research affairs, told reporters.

The latest revelations are a setback for research into stem cells, master cells that can grow into any body tissue.

Creating patient-specific stem cells would be a breakthrough because they would not be rejected by patients' individual immune systems. Scientists hope to someday use such cells to cure Alzheimer's, diabetes and paralysis.

"The bottom line is that it's a major disaster to our whole field because the expectations were so high and now we are back to square one," said Joseph Itskovitz, a stem cell researcher and director of the department of obstetrics and gynecology at Rambam Medical Center in Haifa, Israel.

Hwang's whereabouts were unknown and he could not immediately be reached for comment. A mobile phone number he gave to journalists has been changed.

Hwang bolted to international fame last year when he published an article in Science claiming that he had created the world's first cloned human embryo and extracted stem cells from it. This year, he and his research team published an article in the journal Nature claiming they had produced the world's first cloned dog, an Afghan hound named Snuppy.

Those breakthroughs — which are now also under suspicion — catapulted the veterinarian, dubbed "The Pride of Korea," into the role of national hero. The government responded with pledges of massive financial support.

But trouble began for Hwang last month when he admitted, after more than a year of denial, that he had used eggs donated by lab workers, in violation of ethics guidelines. He also acknowledged that some of the eggs he used were bought. He had claimed that all the eggs were donated. [See for example footnotes 8 and 32 of the June 17, 2005 paper, which footnotes appear on page 1783 of Volume 308 of Science, which footnotes comprise false statements.]

Then this month, a former colleague [Sung Il Roh, the second listed author on the June 17, 2005 paper] alleged that at least nine of the stem cell lines that Hwang said he had created through cloning were faked. He did not elaborate on the charge, but the accusation sparked an investigation by Hwang's university.

Last Friday [Dec. 23], after the university's disclosure that at least nine stem cell lines were faked, Hwang, 53, apologized for the fabrication and stepped down as professor at the university.

Biotech shares on the Seoul stock market took another hit Thursday after declining on the university's initial report. Medipost Co., which develops therapies using stem cells from umbilical cord blood, fell 7.1 percent. Innocell Corp., which specializes in cell therapies, plunged 10.6 percent.

Despite Hwang's fall from grace, some were not ready to give up the dreams that his claims inspired.[Please note also the statements by followers of Jan-Hendrik Schon of the inspiration they received from the [fraudulent] work of Jan-Hendrik Schon, posted elsewhere on IPBiz. See]

"Our confidence in Hwang remains unchanged," said Jung Jin-owan, 40, secretary general of the Korea Spinal Cord Injury Association.

"As we didn't hear directly from Hwang about the result, we would like to believe that he created patient-specific stem cells," added Jung, who was paralyzed from the waist down in a 1987 traffic accident.

The South Korean government, which last week strongly suggested it would stop supporting Hwang, reacted cautiously.

"We don't have an official position over today's report as Seoul National University's investigation is still under way," said Nam Sang-mun, a spokesman for the Science and Technology Ministry.

Hwang filed a complaint with prosecutors last Friday that some of the stem cell lines his team created were replaced by those made at Seoul's Mizmedi Hospital, which had collaborated with his research team.

Roe said while the university's investigation found that some of Hwang's purported stem cell lines originated from Mizmedi, probing any possible switch is beyond the scope of the panel.

Prosecutors said last week they are waiting for the university investigation to be completed before launching their own investigation.


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