Human cloning pioneer admits faking evidence

The troubled scientist behind the world's first human cloning experiments has resigned from a South Korean university after the school announced that he fabricated results in stem-cell research.

The results raised hopes of new cures for hard-to-treat diseases.

A university panel, releasing initial findings of a probe, accused researcher Hwang Woo-suk of damaging the scientific community with his deception, while South Korea's government it may pull its funding for research by the country's star scientist.

"I sincerely apologize to the people for creating a shock and disappointment," Hwang told reporters as he was leaving his office at Seoul National University, considered the country's top institution of higher learning.

"With an apologetic heart ... I step down as professor," he said.

However, Hwang still maintained that he had produced the technology to create patient-matched stem cells as he claimed to do in a May article in the journal Science.

"I emphasize that patient-specific stem cells belong to South Korea and you are going to see this," said Hwang, a veterinarian.

A panel of Seoul National University experts said Hwang had faked results of at least nine of 11 stem cell lines he claimed to have created in the May paper — the first confirmation of allegations that have cast a shadow over all his purported breakthroughs in cloning and stem-cell technology.

"This kind of error is a grave act that damages the foundation of science," the panel said.

The South Korean government, which had strongly supported Hwang and designated him the country's first "top scientist," said Friday it was "miserable" over the reported results of the investigation and will start its own probe over ethics breaches.

Choi Seong-sik, vice minister of science and technology, said it's impossible to recover money already spent for Hwang, a total 40.5 billion won (US$39.9 million, ¤33.75 million) for research and facilities since 1998. But his ministry, which admitted errors in its handling of Hwang's projects, will look at ending other funding and withdraw the "top scientist" designation.

Still, the government said it would support other similar research.

The university panel said today that it found that "the laboratory data for 11 stem cell lines that were reported in the 2005 paper were all data made using two stem cell lines in total."

To create fake DNA results purporting to show a match, Hwang's team split cells from one patient into two test tubes for the analysis — rather than actually match cloned cells to a patient's original cells, the university said.

"Based on these facts, the data in the 2005 Science paper cannot be some error from a simple mistake, but can only be seen as a deliberate fabrication to make it look like 11 stem-cell lines using results from just two," the panel said.

"There is no way but that Professor Hwang has been involved," the university's dean of research affairs, Roe Jung-hye told a news conference, adding that Hwang "somewhat admits to this."

The panel said DNA tests expected to be completed within a few days would confirm if the remaining two stem-cell lines it had found were actually successfully cloned from a patient. The earlier claims of patient-matched stem cells were seen by scientists worldwide as a key step to creating tailored therapies for hard-to-treat diseases, such as paralysis or diabetes.

In light of the revelations, the panel said it would now also investigate Hwang's other landmark papers — which include another Science article in 2004 on the world's first cloned human embryos, and an August 2005 paper in the journal Nature on the first-ever cloned dog. The journals already are reviewing all the work.

Professor Alan Trounson, a top stem-cell researcher at Australia's Monash University, said the scandal showed scientists were rigorously checking one another's results. But he predicted the fallout would also stain any other scientists linked to Hwang's work, also saying that the South Korean's claim to have cloned a dog was "very much in doubt now."

"I think a lot of the community were very impressed with the cloning of a dog — and it was a delightful dog — but I actually don't think it is a cloned dog now," Trounson told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.

Hwang has already asked Science to withdraw the May paper, citing "fatal errors," claiming he had created only some of the 11 stem-cell colonies at the time of publication but completed the work later.

The university panel said today that it found no records of two of the other stem-cell lines Hwang claims to have created. Four others died from contamination, and another three were in the nurturing stage and hadn't yet become full stem-cell lines.

Hwang's article this year had also been viewed as significant for his efficiency in cloning the stem-cell lines, claiming to use just 185 human eggs to create custom-made embryonic stem cells for the 11 patients.

But Roe said the investigation had "found that there have been a lot more eggs used than were reported" and were investigating the exact number.

Prosecutors said they would decide whether to investigate Hwang after the university finishes its probe. The Seoul District Prosecutor's Office said Hwang's fabrication itself is not subject to criminal charges, but indicated an investigation could be possible as upset citizens had filed complaints.

Hwang had last month resigned as head of the World Stem Cell Hub — an international project founded in October that had planned to open centers in Britain and the United States — after admitting he used eggs from female workers at his lab in violation of ethics guidelines. Sung Sang-cheol, head of Seoul National University Hospital where the hub is located, said Friday the center would continue working but might be reorganized or renamed.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive / Digital Marketing Executive

£26000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A luxury beauty house with a nu...

Recruitment Genius: Housekeepers - Immediate Start

£8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This company are currently recruiting new exp...

Recruitment Genius: Head Concierge

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This award winning Property Man...

Recruitment Genius: Content, SEO and PPC Executive

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has ari...

Day In a Page

On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific
In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

Dame Colette Bowe - interview
When do the creative juices dry up?

When do the creative juices dry up?

David Lodge thinks he knows
The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

Fashion's Cher moment

Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

Health fears over school cancer jab

Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

Weather warning

Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

High hopes for LSD

Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

Saving Private Brandt

A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral