South Korean team withdraws groundbreaking paper from scientific journal.

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

Hwang Woo-suk, the South Korean cloning pioneer who started the world stem cell bank, has admitted to faking data, according to his collaborator Roh Sung-il.

“When I visited Hwang in [the] hospital early this morning [where Hwang is recovering from stress-related illness], Hwang said there were no cloned embryonic stem cells at all,” Roh said on MBC television.

Roh told three South Korean television networks and daily newspaper Hankyoreh that he, Hwang and a third coauthor would be withdrawing a study published in May in the esteemed journal Science.

The study reported the creation of 11 patient-specific stem cell colonies through the process of cloning. It was hailed as groundbreaking and greeted with international praise, but on Thursday, Roh said nine of the 11 stem cell lines had been fabricated. He said the authenticity of the other two lines was questionable.

“I agreed with Hwang to ask for it to be withdrawn,” Roh said, according to Korean Broadcasting System (KBS) television network.

He also told KBS that Hwang advised him to “refrain from rash actions,” as the investigation into the other two stem cell lines is still underway.

Professor Lee Wang-jae at Seoul National University confirmed Roh’s statement. He was expected to lead an investigation into Hwang’s research.

“We already learned there are no embryonic stem cells and Prof. Ahn Cu-rie [an associate of Hwang] also knows it,” Lee told The Korea Times. “We can declare today as a day of national infamy.”

Earlier this week, US stem cell expert Gerald Schatten of the University of Pittsburgh sent a letter to Science and to the other authors of the paper asking that his coauthor credit be retracted. He recommended that the paper be withdrawn.

“My careful re-evaluations of published figures and tables, along with new problematic information, now casts substantial doubts about the paper’s accuracy,” Schatten wrote in the letter. “Over the weekend, I received allegations from someone involved with the experiments that certain elements of the report may be fabricated.”

This admission follows a month of ethical problems for Hwang, which began when he admitted he had accepted egg donations from junior researchers. He apologized for not releasing the information earlier.

A press conference Friday morning will yield more information. While members of Hwang’s team will attend, it is not yet clear wither Hwang himself will be present.

Originally published December 15, 2005

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