December 30, 2005

Disgraced S.Korean scientist stands by study

By Jon Herskovitz and Kim So-young

SEOUL (Reuters) - A South Korean scientist whose landmark
paper on tailored embryonic stem cells has been debunked still
says he can produce the cells and thinks people are out to
discredit him, a newspaper reported on Saturday.

A South Korean panel dealt a devastating blow to disgraced
scientist Hwang Woo-suk on Thursday. It concluded that his
team, once celebrated for a breakthrough in attempts to develop
genetically specific material for medical use, had not proved
they had produced the tailored embryonic stem cells.

Beopbo, a South Korean Buddhist newspaper, reported
comments Hwang made to Kim Jae-il, head of a Buddhist
association that has supported him and his work.

Kim said Hwang was worried there were people who had
undermined his work and might be trying to take his technology.

"I have the technology to make tailored embryonic stem
cells, that's for sure. I can replicate the process any time.
My worry is that South Korea's own stem cell technology may be
taken abroad," Hwang was quoted as saying.

Hwang has been in seclusion for more than a week.

He sought solace for several days at a Buddhist temple in
late November when his team's work first came under close
scrutiny, initially with accusations they violated ethical
norms in procuring human egg cells.

He was last seen by the public on December 23 when he
resigned his professorship on the same day the investigation
panel said data in his paper was deliberately fabricated and
Hwang bore a heavy load of responsibility for the fraud.

According to the newspaper, Hwang told Kim he had not
tampered with the work, but that somebody else had.

"It's certain stem cells have been replaced, and experts
would all know that. I think prosecutors would unearth (the
stem cell replacement) in about two days after they launch an
investigation," Hwang was quoted as telling Kim.

"My personal thought is that the replacement was conducted
under a detailed, long-term plan," Kim quoted him as saying.

"I've already asked prosecutors to investigate the
replacement of stem cells. The replacement could be done only
by specific figures," the newspaper reported Hwang as telling
Kim. No further details were provided.

The May 2005 paper published in the U.S. periodical Science
was received with great acclaim because the findings brought
embryonic stem cell studies closer to the day when genetically
specific material could be generated to cure ailments such as
severe spinal cord injuries.

Science said earlier this week it plans to retract the
paper from Hwang's team.

The Seoul National University panel that said there was no
data to prove Hwang's team had produced tailored embryonic stem
cells is also investigating two other landmark achievements by
the team.

The university panel is checking the veracity of a 2004
paper on producing the first cloned human embryos for research,
and the 2005 announcement about producing the world's first
cloned dog.