LifeNews.com Editor August 18, 2006
Hwang Woo-Suk Will Use Animal Cloning to Clone Pigs at New Lab
by Steven Ertelt
Seoul, South Korea (LifeNews.com) -- Hwang Woo-Suk, the scientist who started an international scandal when his research team fabricated all of its embryonic stem cell research, is back in the cloning business. Hwang has opened a new lab with some of his colleagues where he will attempt to clone pigs.
As LifeNews.com reported yesterday, Hwang has resumed his work on animal cloning, which was the only success his research team had.
On Friday, the Ministry of Science and Technology said it gave Hwang approval to set up the laboratory, which will be called the Suam Biotechnology Institute Foundation.
The government indicated Hwang will resume his work with cloning pigs and organ transplants.
“Members of Hwang’s research team who took part in cloning dogs and cows have chosen to continue to work for [Seoul National University],” a ministry official told the Chosun Ilbo newspaper. “[B]ut most of the other members who worked in cloning pigs and human stem cells have opted to work with Hwang at the new foundation.”
Hwang will direct two teams of researchers. One will try to produce genetically manipulated pigs whose organs don’t cause rejection issues when implanted into humans for medical purposes.
The other team will create pig stem cells and test them for safety issues before they are used in transplants.
According to the South Korean newspaper, Hwang’s team will include 15 graduate students and four research assistants who worked with him before. Some of the members of the team are those involved in faking embryonic stem cell research that got Hwang in trouble initially.
Hwang’s lawyer Lee Geon-haeng told Reuters that private supporters are financing the laboratory, which is off-limits to the media. It is a joint project with an unnamed medical company and Hwang was given $2.6 million to set it up.
“Anyone can set up such a foundation as long as it is properly equipped and its purpose of research is legitimate,” a ministry spokesperson told the AFP news agency.
Hwang’s license to conduct embryonic stem cell research has been revoked, so he won’t perform any experiments in that field. However, lee said Hwang wants to do embryonic stem cell research again in the future.
Hwang’s decision to head back to the lab may be short lived.
Hwang is still in the middle of a trial in which the South Korean government has accused him of embezzling state and private funds intended for research. He was indicted in May for allegedly embezzling more than $850,000. If convicted, he faces at least three years in prison.
In July, he admitted in court that he ordered junior scientists on his research team to falsify data in two papers claiming to have made major advances in the unproven field of embryonic stem cell research.
Hwang’s team claimed to have cloned a human embryo and to have created patient specific embryonic stem cells. The latter claim is important because embryonic stem cells have had problems overcoming immune system rejection issues.
Had the team overcome that problem, embryonic stem cells may be more likely to someday provide cures for patients. As a result, embryonic stem cell research continues to be a long way from ever providing real hope for patients with a wide range of diseases and conditions.
Hwang admitted telling junior scientists to write the 2005 paper for the medical journal Science to make it appear that the cloned stem cells were based on 11 embryonic ones rather than the two original lines they had been using.
“I do not want to ignore or deny this as the chief person responsible for the research,” Hwang testified. “I didn’t issue concrete orders but I accept broad responsibility [for the faked paper].”
Hwang may also have a hard time conducting any further research because medical papers are unlikely to ever publish another paper in which he is involved.
New York Times, May 21
life for man's best friend?
A California businessman has teamed up with disgraced Korean stem cell scientist Hwang Woo-suk to create a dog-cloning project called "Best Friends Again". "I know the association with Dr Hwang is going to be controversial," said Lou Hawthorne, the CEO of a company called BioArts. "Our main concern is simply he's the best when it comes to dog cloning and for that reason it behooves us to work with him." Dr Hwang's work in creating human embryonic stem cells was found to be fraudulent in 2004, but he did manage to clone the first dog, Snuppy.
BioArts plans to run several internet auctions in June to clone five dogs with money-back guarantees. Bidding is supposed to start at US$100,000. The company will guarantee the clone's health for one year. ~
Left: Hwang with Snuppy, the first cloned dog (Ahn Young-joon/AP). Right: Hwang today (David Cyranoski)
This year marks the tenth anniversary of what may have been the most spectacular scientific fraud of the last 100 years: Hwang Woo-suk’s claim that he had cloned human embryos. It made him a scientific celebrity everywhere, but especially in South Korea. The fraudulent data and ethical lapses, however, soon emerged and his career seemed over, his name a byword for scientific infamy. In January 2006, the president of Seoul National University described the affair as “an unwashable blemish on the whole scientific community as well as our country”.
However, David Cyranoski, a journalist for Nature, reports that Hwang is making a comeback, as a specialist in cloning animals, especially dogs. Outside Seoul he runs the Sooam Biotech Research Foundation, which was launched in 2006 with millions of dollars from supporters. He has 45 staff and delivers about 15 cloned puppies a month. Americans (mostly) are paying US$100,000 to have their pets cloned. His group is publishing in peer-reviewed journals and he has forged ties with the world’s largest sequencing facility, BGI in Shenzhen, China. Half of his budget comes from government grants.
Despite the scepticism of other scientists, in Korea and abroad, Hwang – who is now 61 – is clearly a comeback kid. He is even seeking recognition of his claim that he did clone a human embryo, even if the research was tarnished by misconduct.
Nature’s editorial team was shocked when many South Koreans interpreted Cyranoski’s profile as recognition of his achievements. A week later they published an editorial in which they insisted that “The evidence suggests that Hwang was not a great scientist… The potential of Hwang’s claimed work was over-hyped even before the work was exposed as fraudulent, especially considering that superior technologies — such as stem cells made from reprogrammed adult cells — were already in the offing.”The best way, they suggest, for Hwang to be accepted as a scientist of integrity is to drop his legal action seeking recognition as the first to clone a human being. “People are asking, can we trust him? Part of the answer lies in how he resolves this issue. If he wants to start again, he should look there.”