July 18, 2006

S.Korea to strip stem cell scientist of medal

SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korea plans to strip disgraced scientist Hwang Woo-suk and six of his collaborators of state medals for their once heralded and now debunked work on stem cell studies, the prime minister's office said on Tuesday.

Hwang, once hailed as a hero in South Korea, is on trial on charges of fraud, embezzlement and violating a bioethics law.

The cabinet at a meeting on Tuesday recommended stripping Hwang and his collaborators of medals honoring them for distinguished work in science and technology. The president will make the final decision in the matter, the office said.

At a court hearing two weeks ago, Hwang admitted to fabricating some data that went into a landmark paper but said he was duped by junior researchers into believing the bulk of the team's findings were valid.

A Seoul National University investigation panel said in January that Hwang's team fabricated key findings in a 2005 paper on producing patient-specific stem cells and a 2004 paper on producing the first cloned human embryos for research.

South Korea has already stripped Hwang of his title as the country's first "Supreme Scientist" and revoked his research license.

While most South Koreans now see Hwang as a source of embarrassment rather than national pride, the scientist still has thousands of supporters asking the government to give him one more chance to prove the findings in his team's papers.