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Korean stem cell pioneer walks plank

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Korean stem cell pioneer Hwang Woo-suk quit today amid concerns that he may have "intentionally fabricated" results in a 2005 paper on producing tailored embryonic stem cells, Reuters reports.

A panel from Seoul National University has probed claims by former colleagues that "key findings in their paper were false", and Roe Jung-hye, the chief of Seoul National University's research office told a press conference: "Based on these findings, the data in 2005 was intentionally fabricated, not an accidental error. It is difficult for Professor Hwang not to avoid taking major responsibility."

The disgraced Hwang said: "I am stepping down as a professor at Seoul National University to apologize for causing such big shocks and disappointment. But I'd like to repeat patient-tailored embryonic stem cells are South Korean technology. All of you will confirm it."

The investigation panel will now examine Hwang's claim to have produced the world's first cloned dog, as well as a "2004 academic paper on cloning the first human embryos for research".

Reuters lists the panel's main findings as:

  • The May 2005 paper - as published in Science - showed only two stem cell lines, not the 11 which featured in a 2004 paper on cloning human embryos.
  • Four clusters of the remaining nine stem cell lines "died because of a contamination accident in January 2005 and cannot be verified as tailor-made stem cells".
  • Another two clusters of cells could not be proved to be stem cell lines. The final three clusters "were found to be colonies of cells but were not yet shown to be stem cell lines when the paper was submitted".

Reaction from the scientific world has been predictable and swift. Laurie Zoloth, a specialist in bioethics for Northwestern University, told Reuters: "It is a heartbreaking turn for science and Korea. Without trust, we just cannot imagine science. This is utterly unacceptable." ®

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