December 23, 2005 - Stem Cell Data Fake
False evidence and shoddy science were uncovered by a panel investigating the work of South Korean cloning pioneer Hwang Woo Suk. Hwang deliberately fabricated key data in a landmark paper this year, offering the first evidence of what is potentially one of the greatest frauds in modern science.
The expert panel at Seoul National University, where Hwang conducted his research, found that nine of 11 stem cell lines he claimed to have created did not exist.
"I sincerely apologize to the people for creating a shock and disappointment," Hwang told reporters as he left his university office.
Rumors and accusations of scientific misconduct have dogged Hwang for weeks. The 53-year-old researcher had been hospitalized for stress recently.
Hwang's actions "were not simple mistakes," Roe Jung Hye, head of research at Seoul National University, said Friday. "There was intentional fabrication.”
After the release of the panel's report, Hwang offered to resign his post at the university's College of Veterinary Medicine.
Hwang's paper, published in May by the U.S. journal Science, purported to describe the creation of 11 human embryo clones using DNA from patients suffering from spinal cord injuries and genetic diseases. No other research group has succeeded in cloning human embryos, though many have been trying.
Hwang's team claimed it used the embryos to create individualized lines of stem cells that were perfect genetic matches to the 11 patients. The achievement, known as therapeutic cloning, was believed to be the first step toward creating personalized stem cell therapies for patients.
Instead, the expert panel found that only two stem cell lines existed when the paper was submitted to Science on March 15. The validity of those cell lines is still being studied.
"I feel distressed," said Jeong Ha Gyun, president of the Korean Spinal Cord Injury Assn. "I still want to strongly believe we have the technology to make stem cells."
Hwang has claimed that his research partners at a fertility clinic in Seoul switched the stem cell lines. He filed a petition in court Thursday asking for an investigation of the laboratory at MizMedi Hospital, where some of his research samples had been stored.
MizMedi's chairman, Dr. Roh Sung Il, prompted the university's investigation by telling KBS television last week that Hwang had admitted to him that some of the research he had published was faked.