Friday, March 03, 2006

Hwang collaborators summoned by Korean prosecutors in stem cell fraud investigation

from the Korea Times:

Four individuals summoned by prosecutors include Hwang, Kim Sun-jong, who co-wrote the 2005 Science paper, Hanyang University professor Yoon Hyun-soo, also a co-author of the paper, and Lee Yang-han, an official at the state-run National Institute of Scientific Investigation, who conducted the DNA test for the stem cell samples.

The prosecution said it summoned all four people on the same day in order to prevent them from manipulating their testimony based on what the others say, which would be possible if the testimonies were taken on separate days.

The prosecution questioned Hwang over whether he had been aware that the DNA test of the first embryonic stem cell they produced was fabricated. Hwang's team developed the stem cell study based on the first stem cell, which was written about in the 2004 paper.

Prosecutors also questioned Hwang over the allegation he was involved in DNA test manipulation. They questioned him about when he learned that the second and third stem cells at the lab had been switched with fertilized eggs kept at Mizmedi.

Hwang claimed he learned about the swapping in November when MBC's current event show "PD Notebook" began to examine the fabrication allegation. But investigators did not rule out the possibility that Hwang was aware beforehand.

They are also investigating whether Hwang collaborated with professor Gerald Schatten at the University of Pittsburgh on the research data fabrication and why Hwang sent $50,000 to Kim and other co-author Park Jong-hyuk, who were staying in the university.

The prosecution also questioned Kim over the allegation that he switched stem cell lines at Hwang's lab with those from Mizmedi. Through a month-long investigation, prosecutors secured evidence that Kim was deeply involved in the swapping.

They are also investigating whether Lee and Yoon participated in manipulating DNA tests of the first stem cell line. According to the prosecution, Yoon suggested to Lee that the research team perform the DNA test, and Kim sent the DNA to Lee. After the test was done, the result was handed over to Hwang's team through Yoon.

The prosecution said it would request arrest warrants against some of the four scientists if the allegations are confirmed, but refused to say who they would be.

English Chosun suggests that Hwang Woo Suk may have been deceived by his colleagues:

The prosecution is also reportedly convinced that Kim, assisted by other MizMedi Hospital researchers on Hwang's team, played a role in fabricating data in the 2005 paper in Science on stem cells "tailored" to patients [patient-specific stem cells]. Investigators are said to have notes written by a MizMedi researcher that suggest Kim Seon-jong indeed maliciously switched stem cell lines, as Hwang has alleged. Yoon and Lee are believed to have played no part in the deception.

However, Hwang still faces fraud charges if it can be shown that he knew the DNA results were bogus, besides charges of embezzling state funds and any charges arising from irregularities in egg procurement for the research, even if he is found to have been duped in the 2005 paper. Roh Sung-il, the head of the MizMedi Hospital and one of the whistleblowers in the scandal, was also questioned on Friday, March 3, 2006.

As noted on IPBiz , Hwang filed suit against Kim in December 2005, and now there may be some recognition of evidence supporting Hwang's charge.


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