January 10, 2006
South Korean Scientists Faked Two Papers but Cloned Dog
By Jon Herskovitz and Jack Kim
SEOUL -- A team led by a once heralded and now disgraced South Korean scientist faked two landmark papers on embryonic stem cells, but did produce the world's first cloned dog, an investigation panel said on Tuesday.
The panel at Seoul National University told reporters data was deliberately fabricated in the papers produced by the team led by scientist Hwang Woo-suk.
Medical researchers say the episode -- which has shocked and shamed many South Koreans who had dubbed Hwang a hero -- is one of the biggest cases of scientific fraud in recent history.
The two papers were a 2004 report on producing the first cloned human embryos for research and the second was a 2005 paper on producing the first embryonic tailored stem cells.
"Hwang's team did not have the data for the stem cell lines in the 2004 paper, but fabricated it," Chung Myung-hee, the head of the panel, told reporters.
The same panel said in an interim report in late December there was no data to prove Hwang's team produced tailored stem cells, as it claimed in a May 2005 paper published in the U.S. periodical Science.
The panel said DNA analysis proved a 2005 claim made by the team of producing the world's first cloned dog, an Afghan hound named Snuppy, which is short for Seoul National University puppy.
The 2005 paper caused a sensation because the findings raised hopes that embryonic stem cells could one day be used to create genetically specific tissue to treat ailments such as severe spinal cord injuries and Parkinson's disease.
"We concluded that Professor Hwang's team did not have patient-specific stem cell lines and did not have any scientific basis that the team made them," the panel said.
Prosecutors have said they may start a criminal probe into Hwang on suspicion of misusing state funds based on the findings in the panel's report.
Hwang has been in seclusion since he resigned from Seoul National University on December 23. South Korean media said he may give a news conference on Tuesday or Wednesday.
He has stood by his findings, saying they were South Korean technology and would be proved.
The panel said the fraud in the May 2005 paper undermined the principles of science and Hwang must shoulder much of the blame. The journal Science said it would retract the paper.
Hwang has been accused by colleagues and junior researchers of deliberately fabricating data. Female members of his team said Hwang coerced them to donate their own eggs for research.
The discredited scientist had been widely feted by the government and admired by the public before the scandal broke. Some people still vocally support him.