Monday, March 20, 2006

Hwang Woo-Suk fired from SNU on March 20, 2006

Although Hwang Woo-Suk resigned his professorship on December 23, 2005 his status remained in limbo, until today. He was fired, without benefits, on March 20, 2006. The fate of the whistleblowers who exposed Hwang is not discussed in the reports of Hwang's demise, but it ought to be. And why doesn't "60 Minutes" do a story on the fate of "PD Notebook", its Korean counterpart which ceased to exist as a consequence of the Hwang matter?

English.chosun reports on March 20, 2006:

Seoul National University on Monday, March 20, 2006, decided to sack the disgraced cloning scientist Hwang Woo-suk without benefits. Four other faculty members involved in the fabrication of Hwang's ostensibly groundbreaking research results will be suspended -- medicine professor Moon Shin-yong and veterinary professor Kang Sung-geun for three months and veterinarian Lee Byung-chun and medicine professor Ahn Cu-rie for two. The committee also decided to dock the salaries of agriculture professor Lee Chang-kyu and medicine professor Baek Sun-ha for a month.

Insiders say the measures are not as strict as SNU President Chung Un-chan originally promised and wonder why. Suspension, dismissal with benefits and dismissal without benefits are the three most serious disciplinary measures under SNU regulations.

Meanwhile, prosecutors investigating the scandal said Monday the contamination of stem cell cultures at Hwang's lab in January last year was an accident.

Seoul Central District Prosecutors' Office said researchers at the laboratory did not deliberately contaminate the cell cultures, which were subsequently destroyed, leading to the absence of any evidence for Hwang's claim that he and his team produced stem cells from cloned embryos.

On Jan. 9, 2005, stem cells nos. 2 to 7 Hwang's team was cultivating were contaminated. The team moved the contaminated cells to MizMedi Hospital, which collaborated with the team, but they could not be restored. The team then used data from stem cell nos. 2 and 3, which had been separately stored at the hospital, to document findings in a paper published in the U.S. journal Science the same year, manipulating data to make it look as if there were 11 stem cell lines. Prosecutors have confirmed that these two stem cells, however, were grown from in-vitro fertilized eggs rather than from embryos cloned from patients' somatic cells, thus further discrediting the paper.

The criminal investigation was triggered by a complaint from Hwang that MizMedi researchers maliciously contaminated the stem cells. Monday's announcement puts an end to speculation about the contamination.

The Korea Times noted

Disgraced South Korean stem cell researcher Hwang Woo-suk was dismissed from his university on Monday [March 20] for his alleged involvement in the fabrication of research data in an international journal.

Seoul National University (SNU) has decided to deprive Hwang of his post and suspend or reduce the salaries of six other co-authors involved in the cloning research project for periods ranging from one to three months for undermining the school's reputation.

Fox News wrote:

Seoul National University decided to fire the 53-year-old scientist following a disciplinary meeting, saying he and his co-workers caused the school to lose honor. Six other professors who worked with Hwang were either suspended or had their salaries cut, the school said.

Last month, the school suspended Hwang from teaching and conducting research as an interim disciplinary measure, but he had remained a professor.

"The professors fundamentally abandoned honesty and sincerity ... and caused the fall in the school's honor and the country's international confidence," the university said Monday in a statement.

Byun Chang-ku, dean of the school's academic affairs, said the committee decided to fire Hwang because he "took overall responsibility as the lead author and played a leading role in writing the papers with fake facts and data."

***Separately, there is an article in the National Review Online, entitled
Embryonic Problems: The South Korean cloning scandal offers a good opportunity to rethink stem-cell research. Of text therein:

At the center of this fight is the cloned human embryo. When Dr. Hwang Woo Suk, a veterinary scientist from South Korea, announced in 2004 that he had created the first embryonic human clones, and then in 2005 that he could routinely produce stem cells from them, the reaction in the American scientific community combined elation and frustration. (...)

Then the world found out that the research was a fraud.

one notes that Hwang did successfully use SCNT to create a "cloned" human blastocyst (as did the Newcastle group later). Hwang did NOT harvest stem cells from the cloned human blastocyst (as alleged in 2004) or create patient specific cell lines (as alleged in 2005).


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