August 17, 2006

Disgraced S.Korean Stem Cell Scientist Back in Lab

SEOUL -- Disgraced South Korean scientist Hwang Woo-suk has resumed his work on animal cloning, but will not restart research on human embryonic stem cells, his lawyer said on Thursday.

Hwang is standing trial on charges of fraud and embezzlement for his team's research on stem cells. He left his lab at Seoul National University in December after a panel there said his team fabricated key data in papers once hailed as landmarks but since debunked.

"Hwang has opened a biological research facility in southern Seoul earlier this month and is working with about 30 of his former lab associates," said Hwang's lawyer Lee Geon-haeng.

"His license to conduct human embryonic stem cell research has been revoked so his team will not do work in that field," Lee said by telephone.

Lee said private supporters are funding the lab, which is off-limits to the media.

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.

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 Alzheimer's.

Hwang, once hailed as a national hero for bringing South Korea to the forefront of stem cell studies, was indicted in May with prosecutors saying he was the mastermind behind the fraud.

At his trial, Hwang apologised for the fraud but said he was duped by junior researchers into believing his team had produced human embryonic stem cell lines through cloning.

Hwang's team is credited with producing the world's first cloned dog -- an Afghan hound named Snuppy. Dogs are considered difficult to clone because of their reproductive system.