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Hwang in the dock

From stem cells to prison cells for disgraced pioneer?

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Hwang Woo-suk, the scientist at the centre of the Korean stem cell scandal, has gone on trial in Seoul on embezzlement and ethical charges.

The courtroom was packed with Hwang faithful today. The sacked professor has argued he was deceived by junior members of the research team and the existence of a conspiracy to discredit him. Stem cell scientist and prosecution witness Yoon Hyun-soo testified: "I was in a position where I could not disobey what Dr Hwang said."

Prosecutors have said he could face up to 10 years prison time for misusing $2.91m in state funds and donations, and a further three years if allegations that he coerced women into donating eggs to his program are proven.

Before allegations of misconduct surfaced, Hwang was a national hero in South Korea. He claimed huge progress in the field by inserting adult patients' DNA into embryos. The breakthrough promised hope to millions suffering a host of currently incurable conditions such as Alzheimer's, spinal cord injury and certain cancers. In February, one supporter set himself on fire in a suicidal protest against the allegations.

Hwang's claim to have cloned a dog was verified by a review board. Harvard scientists recently announced plans to achieve the human breakthroughs Hwang falsified in his Science papers.

The trial continues. ®

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