June 27, 2006

Disgraced South Korean scientist heads back to lab

By Jack Kim

SEOUL (Reuters) - Disgraced South Korean scientist Hwang
Woo-suk will open a laboratory in Seoul next month to resume
his work on animal cloning, and perhaps restart research on
human embryonic stem cells, his lawyer said on Tuesday.

Hwang left his post at Seoul National University in
December after an investigation panel said in a preliminary
report Hwang's team had deliberately fabricated key data in two
papers on embryonic stem cells that were once heralded but now

Hwang went on trial earlier this month, with prosecutors
charging the man once hailed as a national hero with fraud and

Lee Geon-haeng, Hwang's lawyer, said private contributors
had provided the funds to put Hwang back into a laboratory.

"It is Dr. Hwang's belief that the only way to reclaim his
honor and repay the people who have helped him, and win their
forgiveness, is to produce accomplishments in research," Lee
said by telephone.

Hwang will open a research facility in Seoul and employ
many researchers who have worked with him before, Lee said.

Medical researchers have said it will be nearly impossible
for Hwang ever to publish again in a major journal because of
the fraud perpetrated by his team.

Hwang was indicted last month after prosecutors said he was
the mastermind of an elaborate scheme to manipulate research
results to make it look like his team had actually produced
stem cell lines through cloning human embryos.

If convicted, he could spend several years in jail.

His team's reported breakthroughs in stem cell research had
raised hopes because it seemed to hasten the day when
genetically specific tissue could be grown from embryonic stem
cells to repair damaged organs or treat diseases such as

Hwang's team once basked in global acclaim for three
landmark achievements that put South Korea at the global
forefront of cloning and stem cell research.

His supporters have appealed for Hwang to have one more
chance to prove his claims, which he has said were Korean

In a paper published in the periodical Science in 2004,
Hwang's team said it had cloned the first human embryo for
research. In 2005, Hwang's team published another paper in
Science saying it had produced tailored embryonic stem cells.

Science later retracted the papers.

The team last year also said it produced the world's first
cloned dog. Dogs are considered one of the most difficult
animals to clone because of their reproductive cycle.

The Seoul National University investigation panel concluded
Hwang's team did actually clone the dog, an Afghan hound named

(Additional reporting by Jon Herskovitz)