January 6, 2006

S. Korea panel to issue final word on stem cell fraud

SEOUL (Reuters) - A South Korean panel investigating disgraced scientist Hwang Woo-suk said on Friday it would issue its final findings next week on whether he committed fraud in claiming he had developed tailored embryonic stem cells.

The panel of Seoul National University and outside scientists will also release its conclusion on Tuesday on the veracity of Hwang's claim last year that he had produced the world's first cloned dog.

"The report will contain the result of the investigative committee's probe and analysis of the veracity of the 2005 Science paper, the 2004 paper, the cloned dog Snuppy, and the supply of eggs," the university said in a statement.

The panel said in an interim report last week there was no data to prove a 2005 paper in which Hwang's team claimed they had produced stem cells from tissues taken from actual patients, a key step to the goal of treating several incurable illnesses.

Hwang also said in a paper published in 2004 in the journal Nature, that he had cloned, for the first time, a human cell to provide a source of embryonic stem cells - master cells that can provide a source of any type of tissue or cell in the body.

The discredited scientist - widely feted by the government and admired by the public before the scandal broke - also showcased what he said was the world's first cloned dog, an Afghan hound named Snuppy, short for Seoul National University puppy.

The journal Science said on Wednesday it would retract Hwang's paper after the Seoul National University panel completes the investigation.

Hwang has been accused by the panel, colleagues and junior researchers of deliberately fabricating data. Female members of his team also said Hwang coerced them to donate their own eggs for his research.

Hwang has been in seclusion since he resigned from Seoul National University on December 23.