December 12, 2005
S.Korea Stem Cell Pioneer Back in Lab, Inquiry Due
By Jon Herskovitz
SEOUL -- South Korea's pioneering stem cell scientist, embroiled in a scandal over ethical lapses, returned to his laboratory on Monday after the university where he worked agreed to an inquiry to verify his key findings.
Hwang Woo-suk, who was hospitalised last week due to exhaustion, walked past ranks of TV cameras wearing his lab coat to enter his Seoul National University laboratory for the first time since apologising for ethical lapses nearly three weeks ago.
Last week, pictures of an unshaven Hwang resting in a hospital bed made the front pages of South Korean newspapers.
Hwang had requested his work be checked in order to put an end to media speculation questioning the basic findings of his research, team members were quoted telling local newspapers.
A panel of experts from Seoul National University will lead the investigation and conduct DNA tests on the tailored stem cell lines produced by Hwang's team, an official from the university told reporters in a televised news conference.
It may also open its investigation to outside experts, the official said.
South Korean Internet news agency Pressian and TV network MBC have questioned Hwang's research, saying it was not certain if Hwang's team actually cloned 11 different, tailored stem cell lines, as they had reported in a paper published in Science.
Pressian cited an associate of Hwang's as saying some of the stem cell photos in the Science paper may have been altered.
MBC decided not to broadcast a programme questioning Hwang's basic research, citing its own ethical lapses in reporting.
Hwang's research team have dismissed the reports and said their work was vetted by a rigorous system of peer review prior to publication.
Hwang's team produced the world's first cloned dog called Snuppy. Dogs are considered one of the most difficult animals to clone and Snuppy was named by Time magazine as the most amazing invention of the year.
For the scientific community, Hwang is best known for cloning the first human embryos for research and a landmark study published earlier this year about developing tailored stem cells that could one day lead to cures for ailments such as severe spinal cord injuries.
Hwang has been at the center of a media storm since November 24 when he apologised at a packed news conference for two junior women researchers donating their eggs for his work and for not releasing information about the incident in a timely fashion.
The international scientific community frowns on donations by researchers due to the possibility of coercion.
Hwang is considered a hero in South Korea for bringing the country to the forefront of stem cell and cloning studies.
Support for him has only grown stronger in recent weeks, with more than 1,000 South Korean women pledging to donate their egg cells for his research.