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Shock turns to anger in S.Korea on fallen scientist

December 29, 2005

By Lee Jin-joo

SEOUL (Reuters) – South Koreans went from sorrow and shock
to anger and outrage as a scientist they once hailed as a
national hero was dealt another devastating blow on Thursday by
a panel that said there was no data to back his landmark study.

A Seoul National University panel said none of the samples
taken from Hwang Woo-suk’s lab were tailored embryonic stem
cells as he had claimed in a 2005 paper. It was now reviewing
whether Hwang had succeeded in cloning human embryos in 2004.

The same panel said last week work for the 2005 paper
published in the U.S. journal Science had been deliberately
faked by Hwang’s team and undermined the fundamentals of
science.

“This is a fraud,” said Jin Jong-hwa, a 38-year-old office
worker in Seoul.

“He should be severely punished and one of the first things
that should be done is for him to step away from educating
students,” she said, referring to Hwang.

The scientist resigned from his post at the university last
week and apologized. But he had insisted that patient-tailored
embryonic stem cells are South Korean technology and it would
be confirmed.

“He either lacks ability or is a fraud,” said Jung
Hyun-cheol, a public relations official with SK Corp.

Hwang has shattered the expectations of many in the country
that he would put South Korea on the map with a scientific
breakthrough toward finding cures for debilitating illnesses.

Hwang’s research was seen as fulfilling one of the basic
promises of embryonic stem cell research, namely growing
genetically specific tissue that could be used to repair
damaged body parts and cure ailments such as severe spinal cord
injuries.

Hwang claimed he could use a technique used in animal
cloning called somatic cell nuclear transfer to clone human
embryos.

Hwang’s approach appealed to those in the field because it
sounded as if it could be done in theory and he claimed to have
developed a technique that could produce patient-specific stem
cells in an efficient manner, medical ethicist Laurie Zoloth, a
professor at Northwestern University near Chicago, told
Reuters.

“The technical challenges were solved in theory but not in
practice,” Zoloth said by telephone.

“Scientists have to go back to the beginning and search for
a way to overcome that barrier. Now people will approach this
with a lot more caution,” Zoloth said.

Hwang had raised the hopes of people with serious
illnesses, many Koreans said.

“What are we going to do about all those people with
incurable diseases? They had not given up, and they will be
crushed,” said Choi Yeon-kyoung who works at a deli in Seoul.

Hwang’s fame peaked in October when patients jammed
telephone lines and computer servers to donate tissue samples
for his studies.

Support for him began to crumble in November when he
admitted to ethical lapses in procuring human eggs for his
research. But some supporters were prepared to stand by the
scientist until the bitter end.

“Let’s wait until the truth unveils itself,” a member of
Hwang’s online fan club wrote. “I wish Snuppy can talk and tell
the truth,” the writer said, referring to the Afghan hound
claimed by Hwang as the first cloned dog.

The Seoul National University panel said it could not yet
reach a conclusion on the claim and was analyzing DNA tests on
the dog.

(With additional reporting by Yoo Hee-doh, Jack Kim and Koh
Yoo-na)


Source: reuters



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