Saturday, May 13, 2006

More on Hwang. Events related to egg donation issues.

On the Hwang timeline:

On November 18, 2005, Science (310 Science 1100) reported on Schatten's break with Hwang over egg donor issues. An important "fine point" to note is that Schatten's alleged concern was over egg donations for the 2004 paper in Science, of which Schatten is NOT a co-author. The Science article of November 18 is silent on issues with egg donations as to the 2005 paper. Schatten is a co-author of that paper AND Korean bioethics laws were in effect as to the eggs of that paper (and are explicitly mentioned in a footnote in the 2005 paper.)

Schatten accuses Hwang of misleading him about the source of oocytes for the 2004 Science paper. Schatten, who was not an author of the 2004 paper, did not detail his charges, but questions had been raised earlier about the source of the oocytes. In the first Science paper, the researchers said that their single cell line was the result of 242 tries with oocytes donated by 16 women. Shortly after the paper was published, Nature reported allegations that two junior members of the lab had donated oocytes for the work.

Science does allude to the 2005 paper.

The flap apparently grew out of a criminal investigation involving Hwang's collaborator Sung-Il Roh, a fertility specialist at MizMedi Hospital in Seoul, who helped collect many of the oocytes Hwang's team used in the 2005 Science paper. (...)On 10 November, Schatten wrote to editors at Science assuring them that no donors had been paid for eggs used in either paper. Two days later, he announced that he was ending the collaboration because of a "breach of trust."

There is no further mention of issues with the egg sources for the 2005 paper in the November 18 article, a rather odd omission.

There is other text: Hans Schöler of the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Medicine in Münster, Germany, who has visited Hwang's lab and had been discussing a possible collaboration, says his interactions with Hwang have given him no reason to doubt Hwang's honesty.

On December 2, 2005, Science reported Hwang's admission as to egg donors. On Thanksgiving Day, Korean researcher Woo-Suk Hwang resigned as president of South Korea's planned World Stem Cell Hub, acknowledging that two researchers in his lab had donated eggs for his research, and that donors had been paid for their contributions--something he had denied for months.

On December 9, 2005, Science (310 Science 1595) reported on the photograph problem in the 2005 Hwang paper.

Katrina Kelner, Science deputy editor for life sciences, says it appeared that the duplicate panels were not part of the original submission but had been sent in response to a request for high-resolution images after the paper had been received. "From the information that we have so far, it seems that it was an honest mistake," she says. "We have no evidence that there was any intent to deceive."

The figure in question is supposed to show patterns of expression for a range of ES cell markers in the 11 cell lines. But it contains four pairs of apparently duplicated images, even though they are labeled as showing different cell lines. Gerald Schatten of the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania, who was the corresponding author on the paper and provided the high-resolution images to Science, declined to comment.

Rudolf Jaenisch of the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts, says he still has confidence in the reported results. "This is an extremely important study, and I have no reason whatsoever to question any of the published data," he says.

In an editorial in Science on January 6, 2006, Donald Kennedy noted Hwang and G. Schatten, the corresponding authors of the paper, have notified Science of their intention to retract the paper. Hwang has sent us some language that he intends to use in the retraction. We have requested more information from the authors as well as agreement from all the co-authors to retract the paper.

In an article on January 6, 2006 (311 Science 22), Science reports on the role of MBC-tv's "PD Notebook."

Those hopes [of therapeutic cloning], however, began to unravel shortly after midnight on 1 June 2005, when someone sent a message to the "tip off " mailbox on the Web site of a long-running investigative TV news program called PD Notebook aired by the Seoul-based Munhwa Broadcasting Corp. (MBC). According to one of the program's producers, Bo Seul Kim, the writer said his conscience had been bothering him over problems he knew of with Hwang's research. Asking PD Notebook to contact him, he closed his message by writing: "I hope you don't refuse this offer to get at the truth."

Producer Hak Soo Han met the tipster that night. According to Han's recollection of the meeting, the tipster said he had been involved in the research leading to Hwang's 2004 paper in Science. The tipster also claimed that based on his knowledge of the team's work, Hwang couldn't have produced the patient-specific stem cells reported in the 2005 paper, although he admitted having no hard evidence of fabrication.

Han says he got the news of the lab test results on 19 October while he was in the United States preparing to interview Sun Jong Kim, another co-author of the 2005 paper who had left MizMedi to join the University of Pittsburgh research team led by Gerald Schatten, a Hwang collaborator and co-author of the 2005 paper. In an attempt to get an admission of wrongdoing from Kim, Han says, the TV team resorted to some misrepresentation of its own. When the producers met him on 20 October, Han and his partner filmed Kim with a hidden camera; they didn't reply when he asked if they were recording him. In the interview, Han told Kim they had information that could prove Hwang's work was falsified. He also tricked Kim into believing that Korean prosecutors had begun an investigation and told Kim he didn't want to see him get hurt.

With public opinion starting to turn, on 15 December, MBC broadcast the PD Notebook segment showing Kim-- with his face blurred--admitting that he doctored photographs at Hwang's direction. The next day, Hwang and Schatten told Science they wanted to withdraw the 2005 paper.

On January 10, 2006, Science retracts both the 2004 and the 2005 paper (311 Science 335). The issue of egg donation is not mentioned. The basis for retraction is as follows: Because the final report of the SNU investigation indicated that a significant amount of the data presented in both papers is fabricated, the editors of Science feel that an immediate and unconditional retraction of both papers is needed. We therefore retract these two papers and advise the scientific community that the results reported in them are deemed to be invalid.

On January 11, 2006, Lawrence B. Ebert submitted his manuscript to JPTOS on the Hwang matter. The article is published without any updates in March 2006 (88 JPTOS 239).

In an article in Science on February 10, 2006 (311 Science 754), it is noted two co-authors of the 2005 Science paper, including Sun Jong Kim, received $50,000 from Hwang's associates. The same issue announced that John I. Brauman will head an external panel investigating how the Hwang papers were handled by Science.

On May 12, 2006, Hwang and five associates are indicted by Korean prosecutors.

English.chosun made clear that the indictment against Hwang included breach of the bioethics law: The Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office on Friday indicted the scientist without arrest on charges of fraud, embezzlement and breach of the bioethics law. Canada's Globe and Mail, relying on the AP, also mentioned the three charges: South Korean prosecutors indicted disgraced cloning scientist Hwang Woo-suk yesterday on charges of fraud, embezzlement and bioethics violations in a scandal over faked stem-cell research that shook the scientific community. The Voice of America also mentioned the ethics issue: Lee says Hwang is being charged with criminal fraud and embezzlement. He is also accused of violating a law that forbids the purchase of human eggs for research.

One has to read between the lines. Because the Korean bioethics law was not in effect for the 2004 paper AND was in effect for the 2005 paper, the breach of the bioethics law charged to Hwang presumably relates to work for the 2005 paper.

The Los Angeles Times account of the Hwang indictment mentioned only embezzlement and fraud: South Korean prosecutors announced today that they had charged scientist Hwang Woo-suk with embezzlement and fraud, saying he misused public funds for his fabricated experiments in human cloning. The same for The Scientist: Hwang Woo-suk, the South Korean researcher who admitted fabricating data on human stem cell lines, has been charged with criminal fraud and embezzlement The same for the International Herald Tribune (NY Times): Hwang Woo-Suk, the disgraced cloning expert, was indicted on fraud and embezzlement charges today, months after an investigative panel determined that he had fabricated evidence to prove that he had cloned human cells.

See also hwang2005/science_statement.pdf


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