Thursday, January 26, 2006

More on the role of Gerald Schatten in Hwang-gate

The AP has a story on the role of Gerald Schatten of the University of Pittsburgh in the Hwang embryonic stem cell matter (his co-authorship of the paper "Patient-specific embryonic stem cells derived from human SCNT blastocysts," Science 2005, 308, 1777.

It doesn't focus on his role in writing the paper, and it does not mention his patent application.

In interviews with The Associated Press over the past week, former colleagues called Schatten a man of high standards with an irrepressible enthusiasm for science, although one former collaborator questioned whether his drive for recognition may have hurt him.

"From my perspective, he's a completely honest and ethical person, and I think that if he were directly involved in some of this misconduct that went on, that's completely out of character," said Duane Compton, a Dartmouth College biochemistry professor who collaborated with Schatten over a period of about 10 years.

Schatten has said that he was not directly involved in Hwang's laboratory research, and thus could not vouch for it, although he was listed as senior author or co-author on some of the South Korean's papers. Those papers include a May 2005 article claiming that Hwang had derived patient-specific stem cell lines from cloned human embryos.

In South Korea, prosecutors have found no evidence to substantiate Hwang's claims of creating cloned stem cells. The scientist has accused colleagues of deceiving him and alleged that some of the cloned embryonic stem cells had been switched without his knowledge.

Schatten did not respond to interview requests by phone and e-mail. A university spokeswoman did not return calls seeking comment on the investigation. The university is expected to release a statement on its findings by early February.

Possible consequences of the investigation remain unclear.

Dr. Arthur Levine, dean of the university's medical school and Schatten's boss, has said only that he will consider appropriate disciplinary action when the probe is complete.

Compton said the possible demise of Schatten as a vocal supporter of stem cell research — a contentious field because of its use of human embryos — is "one of the saddest parts of this whole thing." Schatten has helped educate members of Congress and other laymen about the potential therapeutic benefits of stem cells.

"He's always been really good at that and he's always been very balanced about the potential gains as well as the potential problems that exist," Compton said. "He's never painted some pie-in-the-sky picture." [IPBiz note: one might look at the prophetic claims in Schatten's patent application.]

Joan Hunt, a professor at the University of Kansas Medical Center, who worked with Schatten at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, complimented his skill as a researcher but said his public support of stem cell research "is his tendency and maybe his weakness."

"I think that Jerry, more often than not, if asked to be senior author, would say yes if he thought it was a good publication," she said. However, "he has hundreds of publications, so it's not as if he needs another paper." [IPBiz comment: but Schatten and Hwang did NOT share inventorship on the patent applications! Perhaps he did need the patent? Further, Schatten and Hwang were the writers of the 2005 paper in Science, so it's not as if this were a "complimentary" authorship [the ethics of which might be separately questioned.]

Schatten was already a prominent reproductive biologist specializing in monkeys by the time he arrived at the University of Pittsburgh in 2001. [IPBiz note: one might look at the details surrounding Schatten's departure from the Oregon Primate Research Center. See IPBiz post on January 9.]

He is credited with having created the first monkey to contain DNA from another animal — in this case a jellyfish. He was reportedly interested in adapting Hwang's techniques for use in the primates. [IPBiz note: One perhaps should read Schatten's US patent application.]

Robert Lanza, a cloning expert at the Worcester, Mass.-based biotechnology company Advanced Cell Technology Inc., said he has a high regard for Schatten's work.

"It's just a real shame that this has happened to him," he said.

Advanced Cell Technology [ACT] was involved in patent interference with Geron over technology related to cloning Dolly the sheep. ACT lost badly.


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