January 10, 2006

S.Korean scientists faked two papers but cloned dog

By Jon Herskovitz and Jack Kim

SEOUL (Reuters) - A team led by a once heralded and now
disgraced South Korean scientist faked two landmark papers on
embryonic stem cells but did produce the world's first cloned
dog, an investigation panel said on Tuesday.

The panel at Seoul National University told reporters data
was deliberately fabricated in papers produced by the team led
by scientist Hwang Woo-suk. It described the case as

Medical researchers say the episode -- which has shocked
and shamed many South Koreans who had dubbed Hwang a hero -- is
one of the biggest cases of scientific fraud in recent history.

The two papers finally debunked on Tuesday were a 2004
report on producing the first cloned human embryos for research
and a 2005 paper on producing the first embryonic tailored stem
cells. Both papers were published in the U.S. periodical

"Hwang's team did not have the data for the stem cell lines
in the 2004 paper, but fabricated it," Chung Myung-hee, the
head of the panel, told reporters.

Chung reiterated a finding in an interim report in late
December that there was no data to prove that Hwang's team had
produced tailored stem cells, as claimed in the May 2005 paper.

That paper caused a sensation because the findings raised
hopes that embryonic stem cells could one day be used to create
genetically-specific tissue to treat ailments such as severe
spinal cord injuries and Parkinson's disease.

"We concluded that Professor Hwang's team did not have
patient-specific stem cell lines and did not have any
scientific basis that the team made them," the panel said.

The panel said DNA analysis proved a 2005 claim made by the
team of producing the world's first cloned dog, an Afghan hound
named Snuppy, which is short for Seoul National University

In a finding likely to be seized on by Hwang supporters,
the panel said the team had created a few human blastocysts, or
early embryos, and that implied that "the team was in
possession of a technique of creating cloned human blastocyst."

"This reminds us that science is a human endeavour," said
David Winickoff, a bioethics assistant professor at the
University of California at Berkeley. "And as such, it is
subject to ethical lapses and dishonesty."


Prosecutors have said they may start a criminal probe into
Hwang on suspicion of misusing state funds, based on the
findings in the panel's report. They made no move on Tuesday.

The report did not say who might have been responsible for
the fabrication. Chung said that would be left to investigative
authorities, referring to prosecutors.

Park Ky-young, science adviser to President Roh Moo-hyun,
expressed her intention to resign after the report was
released, a presidential spokesman said. Park was also a
co-author of the 2004 paper from Hwang's team.

The spokesman described the panel's findings as
regrettable. Roh opened a global stem-cell center associated
with Hwang in Seoul last October.

The journal Science has said it will retract the May 2005
paper. It said it had asked the panel for its final report and
was asking the papers' authors to answer technical questions.

The panel said Hwang's team had procured more human egg
cells than they had reported.

It said junior researchers in Hwang's laboratory had
donated eggs, and in one instance of egg procurement,
"Professor Hwang accompanied the student to the hospital

Donations of this sort by research assistants are seen as
an ethical violation because of the possibility of coercion.

Hwang has been in seclusion since he resigned from Seoul
National University on December 23. South Korean media said he
may give a news conference on Wednesday.

He has stood by his findings, saying they were South Korean
technology and would be proved.

The discredited scientist had been widely feted by the
government and admired by the public before the scandal broke.

His team received tens of millions of dollars for their
research. The government dubbed him South Korea's "supreme
scientist" last year, but he is likely to be stripped soon of
that honor, officials have told local media.

(Additional reporting by Maggie Fox in Washington and Lee
Jin-joo in Seoul)