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Korean Team Admits 'Fabrications' in Clone Study
Cheon Jong-woo

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SEOUL — Key parts of a landmark paper from South Korea's most renowned stem-cell scientist were fabricated and the researcher is seeking to have the work withdrawn, a close collaborator said Thursday.

The announcement brings to a head the growing controversy over the groundbreaking work of Hwang Woo-suk, whose team at Seoul National University published the first scientific paper on the cloning of a human embryo in 2004 and the first dog earlier this year.

A U.S. cloning and stem-cell expert who had lent his name and prestige to Hwang's work, Dr. Gerald Schatten of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, earlier this week alleged there may have been fabrications and asked to have his name taken off a study he co-authored with Hwang.

On Thursday, Roh Sung-il, a hospital administrator and specialist in fertility studies who worked directly with Hwang, said his colleague had admitted there were fabrications in a second study involving tailor-made human stem cells published in May of this year.

"Professor Hwang admitted to fabrication," Roh said on South Korea's MBC television.

Roh told media nine of the 11 stem-cell lines that were part of the tailored stem study paper were fabricated and the authenticity of the other two was questionable.

According to recent reports in South Korean media, some of the photographic images of the stem-cell lines may have been manipulated to make it appear as if there were 11 separate lines, or batches. Hwang had recently asked Science to correct some of the images used in his study.

Nothing Heard from Hwang

Repeated attempts to reach Hwang and his other team members failed. Science has said it has heard nothing from Hwang.

"Science editors have asked Dr. Hwang and his co-authors for clarification regarding unconfirmed news reports about requests for retraction," the journal said in a statement.

Members of Hwang's team plan to hold a news conference Friday morning, a team member said, adding he was not sure if Hwang would attend.

Another television network, KBS, quoted Roh as saying: "I agreed with Hwang to ask for it (the paper) to be withdrawn."

In the disputed study, Hwang's team reported that they had used a cloning method called somatic cell nuclear transfer to create batches, or lines, of genetically identical stem cells from nine different patients, most with a rare neurological disease.

The study appeared to fulfill one promise of embryonic stem-cell research—the ability to tailor medicine to individual patients, and to study a patient's real disease in the laboratory.

Hwang has been at the center of a media storm since Nov. 24 when he admitted that two junior women researchers donated their eggs for his work.

The international scientific community frowns on donations by researchers because of possible coercion.

Other stem-cell experts have said they are worried by the controversy. The issue of human cloning is itself controversial, with opponents saying it is unethical to experiment on human embryos.

Several scientists have called for an independent investigation to verify Hwang's work.

"This is just another reason that this field of research should be allowed to be conducted in the U.S. under the strict supervision of the (U.S.) National Institutes of Health and its stringent peer-review system," the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research, a U.S. group that lobbies on behalf of cloning and stem-cell research, said in a statement.

Hwang—who has spent time in the hospital in recent days for apparent exhaustion—is considered a hero in South Korea for bringing the country to the forefront of stem-cell and cloning studies.

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