Hwang Woo-suk. Credit: Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images
Hwang Woo-suk never created patient-specific stem cells or, for that matter, embryonic stem cells, an investigative panel at Seoul National University (SNU) announced today.
The panel discredited the widely-criticized June 2005 Science paper in which Hwang claimed to have created 11 patient-specific stem cell lines, as well as a 2004 paper in which Hwang said he had produced the first cloned human embryonic stem cells.
“Results described in 2004 Science article including DNA fingerprinting analyses and photographs of cells have also been fabricated,” the SNU report said.
The panel’s results indicate that the end-goal of such research—use of stem cells to cure paralysis and debilitating diseases—is farther off than researchers thought. Hwang was the only scientist who claimed to have produced stem cells from a cloned embryo. But it appears that cloned embryonic stem cell lines have yet to be developed.
Professor Chung Myung-hee, who lead the panel, told the press that Hwang does have the basic technology necessary for to harvest stem cell from cloned embryos. He also said that Hwang’s other claim to fame, the creation of the first cloned dog, an Afghan hound named Snuppy, is legitimate.
However, these achievements do not overshadow Hwang’s publication of two fraudulent papers.
“Such an act is none other than one of deceiving the scientific community and the public at large,” Chung said. “That the publications are fabricated alone mandates a severe penalty by academia.”
Hwang is expected to be dismissed from SNU along with his closest coworkers. He received $39.9 million from the Korean government for his research and may be prosecuted for misusing taxpayers’ money. Prosecutors have already banned Hwang and 10 members of his team from leaving the country.
Donald Kennedy, editor-in-chief of Science, issued a video statement in response to the panel’s recent findings. He said the journal will retract the 2004 paper, and has already retracted 2005 paper. He also said Science is going to undertake a systematic review of the editorial history of both papers, and will improve their ability to safeguard against future fraudulent publication.
“Fraud is unlikely to be eliminated completely through the process of scientific publishing, and truth in science ultimately depends upon confirmation,” Kennedy said. “But at Science, we are determined to do everything in our power to evaluate our own procedures for detecting research misconduct, and we will communicate the results of this effort to the scientific community when it is complete.”
The panel’s conclusion arrived on the heels of the preliminary finding that nine of the 11 stem-cell lines described the 2005 paper were inauthentic. The research came into serious question when a colleague claimed Hwang had admitted to fabricating data; a coauthor tried to pull his name off of the 2005 paper.
Even before the fabrication of data came to light, Hwang’s research was beset by ethical scandal. It was revealed that Hwang had used eggs from underlings in his lab for his research. While the donations initially appeared to be voluntary, female members of Hwang’s team revealed last week that they were coerced into donating their eggs.
Hwang still has vocal support from some South Koreans. They want SNU to give him six months to replicate his discredited research. The panel has rejected Hwang’s request for a second chance.
(sources: The Korea Times, AP, Reuters)
Originally published January 10, 2006