December 16, 2005 | David F. Coppedge

Stem Cell Achievement a Possible Fraud

South Korean stem cell researcher Woo Suk Hwang has reason for stress and fatigue, as news reports show him escorted by bodyguards on the way to the office.  His landmark paper in Science1 last July that announced the creation of stem cells matching the donor’s DNA (05/23/2005) has been called into question on two fronts.  On the scientific front, the claims are being questioned by colleagues.  On the ethical front, critics say he covered up the fact that females in his lab were pressured to donate egg cells.
    Science this week2 reported that his as-yet unreplicated results “inspired a global ramp-up in stem cell efforts” last summer.  A co-worker accused Hwang of pressuring a lab worker to forge evidence.  Hwang stands by his work (see BBC), but is requesting a retraction of the paper.  He has resigned from the World Stem Cell Hub.  Other sources for this story: Nature,3 MSNBC News, BBC News, Town Hall 12/15, Town Hall 12/16.
    The clash of ethics with science continued on other fronts as well.  The Salk Institute embedded human brain cells into mice, reported Live Science; (see 03/10/2005).  On the issue of abortion, researchers from University of Oslo in Norway found that mental distress from an abortion lasts for years (source: EurekAlert).
Update 12/23/2005: LiveScience reported Dec. 23 that Hwang also resigned from his post as professor at Seoul National University after allegations he fabricated his research on stem cells became stronger.  By the end of the month, news reporters were declaring his entire study fraudulent.


1Woo Suk Hwang et al., “Patient-Specific Embryonic Stem Cells Derived from Human SCNT Blastocysts,” Science, 17 June 2005: Vol. 308. no. 5729, pp. 1777 – 1783, DOI: 10.1126/science.1112286.
2Dennis Normile and Gretchen Vogel, “News of the Week: Korean University Will Investigate Cloning Paper,” Science, 16 December 2005: Vol. 310. no. 5755, pp. 1748 – 1749, DOI: 10.1126/science.310.5755.1748.
3David Cyranoski, “TV tests call into question cloner’s stem-cell success,” Nature 438, 718 (8 December 2005) | doi:10.1038/438718b.

Many have warned that science devoid of ethical standards could generate fraud and abuse (07/11/2005, 02/11/2005, 02/08/2005, 11/03/2004, 10/21/2004, 10/18/2004).  With the highest values in science tending toward prestige, prizes and money, these could represent just the beginning of sorrows.

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