Egg On His Face

/ by Edit Staff /

Cloning pioneer Hwang Woo Suk's dog days

hwang.jpg Hwang Woo-suk.  Credit: Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images

When South Korean cloning expert Hwang Woo Suk opened an internationally accessible stem cell bank in Seoul this October, researchers around the world rejoiced, anticipating unprecedented access to cell lines and information. Little did they know that scandal lurked just around the corner.

In late November, Roh Sung Il, the researcher in charge of egg recruitment for the bank, admitted to purchasing human eggs from women at a rate of 1.5 million won ($1,400) per donor. Only days later, Hwang himself admitted to using eggs donated by two of his subordinates.

Nature raised suspicions of ethically questionable activity in May 2004. Hwang has been less than truthful since.

“The fact that I had chosen to protect my researchers would not excuse me from having withheld the information,” Hwang said at a press conference. “But, please know that it never was my deliberate intention,”

Both methods of egg procurement violate Korean law. However, the bioethics law was not in effect at the time the eggs were obtained, so neither Hwang nor Roh will face criminal charges. Hwang also violated the ethical guidelines set forth by the 1964 Declaration of Helsinki, which prohibits researchers from obtaining eggs from vulnerable donors, such as subordinates.

Hwang announced that he will resign from chairmanship of the world’s stem bank, and all other official responsibilities. He will concentrate purely on research.

“From now on, I am going to totally devote myself as a researcher. This is the least I can do to thank all those who have given me the warm support, especially all those who are suffering from incurable diseases,” he said.

Whether the methods of procurement were actually unethical is still up for debate. A presidential advisory committee, which has members from science organizations, ethics organizations and science-related ministries, will investigate the actions of Hwang’s team. On December 13th, they will decide whether the research had any ethical or legal flaws, according to global and domestic standards.

Bet Hwang wishes he’d stuck to dogs.
(source: The Korea Times)

Originally published November 30, 2005

Tags data dna ethics genetics research

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