Saturday, December 17, 2005

Seoul National University investigation of cloning issue to conclude in one or two weeks

South Korea National University will step up an investigation into charges made against Professor Hwang after allegations that key parts of a landmark paper were fabricated. The university's dean of research affairs, Roe Jung-hye, told reporters the review team would send Professor Hwang's team a questionnaire on Dec. 19 and a conclusion could be reached in one or two weeks. After an emergency meeting chaired by South Korean Prime Minister Lee Hae-chan, the South Korean Government said it would wait for an internal probe by Seoul National University. "Seoul National University will probe doubts raised about (Hwang's) 2005 thesis first and, if the doubts are confirmed, will replicate experiments," a university statement said, referring to a study, published in May, on tailor-made human stem cells.

The Korea Times alluded to television reports in a discussion of co-author Schatten of the University of Pittsburgh:

Schatten fully supported Hwang's bombshell experiments until recently, despite the growing doubts about it both at home and abroad triggered by an MBC TV's investigative report. The American scholar stunned Hwang and stirred the global science community as well early last month when he announced his decision to sever his 20-month collaboration with Hwang, citing the Korean celebrity's ethical lapses in securing human egg cells. He claimed that Hwang used ova donated by at least one of the members of his research team, in contravention of the 1964 Helsinki Declaration forbidding a scientist from coercing his or her subordinate to provide materials used in a research project.

The ado was touched off following MBC's decision to withhold its report on the matter for violating journalistic ethics on collecting information from two researchers now deployed to the University of Pittsburgh. At Schatten's request, the American school is investigating Hwang's work, with its probe focused on the pictures of the stem cells placed in Science.

From an earlier Korea Times report:

We were 100 percent confident of out tailor-made stem cells in the face of challenges from MBC (a local TV network that raised doubts on Hwang's research). So we provided five stem cells and somatic cells of patients to MBC.

Our staff even took a flight to get a somatic cell because one of the five patients was a foreigner.

Due to worries over the credibility of MBC-initiated tests, we carried out in-house trials that revealed Nov. 18 that their DNA fingerprint traces were different from those printed in Science.

Back then, we could not suspect a possibility that they were from Mizmedi so we checked out any probability that DNA peak value can change due to long-time culturing.

Many specialists participated in the trial but they failed to find any relevant paper. Since we heard of the allegations that our stem cell lines came from Mizmedi, we turned to address that possibility.

After sending data to one of former Mizmedi researchers, we learned the stem cells were actually made in Mizmedi. We double-checked it through a second-round trial.

Authentication of Stem Cells

Our team is thawing five frozen stem cell lines to authenticate our performance. I think their DNA fingerprints will be learned within 10 days.

Who is Responsible?

We staged an in-house probe late last month on how our tailor-made stem cells were replaced with those of Mizmedi.

Presumably, the stem cells were changed in their nascent stage with those of Mizmedi because a total of six related researchers do not have any doubts as to the authenticity of stem cells.

Subsequently, we could not exclude above-mentioned possibility. The fact adds suspicions that genders of somatic cell contributors correspond with those of Mizmedi stem cells.

In addition, most of the stem cell lines were turned to stem cells of which the existence and DNA characteristics were not disclosed.

Based on this reasoning, we suspect someone who had access both to our lab and Mizmedi is responsible. To confirm this, we will request the police to investigate this case.

As the leader of our research team I sincerely apologize for causing all these controversies both at home and abroad.

But we still need to confirm the veracity of five stem cells and that the 2004 stem cells really exist.

I beg people's pardon once again for allowing critical flaws in revealing our scientific breakthroughs even though we retain source technologies.

--> Of MBC, Gulf Times reported:

Hwang on November 24 offered to resign from his official posts and apologised for covering up the fact that two of his junior researchers had donated their own eggs for his breakthrough research in violation of accepted ethics.
The scandal snowballed afterwards, with Seoul-based broadcaster MBC airing a programme alleging ethical breaches and preparing another which questions the authenticity of his research.

MBC yesterday [Dec. 11] decided to suspend the broadcasting of its second report and apologised for using coercion to obtain information critical of the pioneer.

-->The Korea Times reported on the MBC apology and on the coercion involved.

Kim Song-jong on the incident:

"MBC producers visited me on Oct. 20 and insisted Hwang's research is all fake and his two papers published by Science will be canceled. They even said Hwang will be arrested," said Kim Son-jong, a feeder cell expert who is now at the University of Pittsburgh.

"Then they said a police investigation would start in the United States and urged me to reveal everything I know saying that doing so would protect me from the probe," he added.

Asking Hwang to carry out a second round of tests to clear away all suspicions, MBC producer Han Hak-soo said last week that he got a crucial confession in Pittsburgh, but Kim flatly rebuffed that.

"They continued to claim that there are no (patient-specific human embryonic stem) cells so I made it clear that there are. After double-checking it from Seoul, I called Han and confirmed it again," Kim said.

Kim contended MBC duped him and his two Korean colleagues at the University of Pittsburgh into accepting the interview, believing the TV network was making a documentary.

"MBC even did not let us know that the broadcaster recorded the interview. After knowing that, I asked it not to air the interview, but it refused the request," Kim said.

MBC reiterated the TV station would reveal everything on the air tomorrow night on its program "PD Notebook."

Kim and two other researchers are now under professor Gerald Schatten at the University of Pittsburgh, who pulled out of the 20-month-old partnership with Hwang last out of ethical concerns.

Kim said he reported all the contents of the interview with MBC to Schatten and that event appears to be the major cause for Schatten to sever ties with Hwang.

***from an article in English

Top scientists, academics and Internet users were united in anger after revelations on the YTN news channel that MBC's "PD Diary" crew used threats and hidden cameras in their quest to dig up dirt on Prof. Hwang Woo-suk's research.

Kim Woo-ryong, a professor of journalism at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies said, "In the process of gathering information, if MBC used coercive techniques or in any way camouflaged their identity, this would be a serious breach of press ethics." He went on to say, "If in their investigation, MBC threatened to discredit the team or claimed that Hwang would be arrested or misrepresented the facts, it could legally constitute defamation."

Lee Young-soon, of Seoul National University's College of Veterinary Medicine, said, "MBC was making threats during its investigation of the science in the matter when it was never qualified to investigate it in the first place." Lee added, "If 'PD Diary' with absolutely no scientific background, tried to verify the scientific research, it would become laughing stock of the scientific world. With 'PD Diary' completely discredited, it would now be desirable for national agencies to step in."


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