South Korean stands by his stem cell research, says he will produce proof
SEOUL, South Korea – South Korea’s best known scientist said Friday he stands by his breakthrough stem cell research despite a barrage of fraud allegations, and vowed to prove the findings within days.But Hwang Woo-suk apologized for “fatal errors and loopholes in reporting the scientific accomplishment” and said he has asked that the scientific article outlining his research be withdrawn. He gave no details of the errors.The paper, published in May by the journal Science, purported to show how Hwang’s team used cloning to custom-make embryonic stem cells for 11 patients, raising hopes of treatment for paralysis or ailments like Parkinson’s disease.Donald Kennedy, editor in chief of Science, said Hwang’s request to withdraw the paper cited an analysis of the data that had determined some results “could not be trusted.”He said all authors must agree to a withdrawal and Hwang was contacting the others to secure their approval.”It is clear the authors are going to need to provide more details as to where the errors lie and how they arose,” Kennedy said.”This is a disappointing episode in a number of respects,” he added. “There is some disappointment, of course, that falls on the authors because we now know that some of these problems were known to them at the time that the 2005 manuscript was submitted.”Hwang’s team earlier told Science some duplicate photos of the same stem cell colonies had accidentally been printed in the journal and presented as separate colonies, a mistake the editors have said did not affect the findings.Speaking Friday at a news conference in Seoul, Hwang insisted his research team “made patient-specific embryonic stem cells, and we have the source technology to produce them.”But his former research partner, Roh Sung-il, repeated accusations Friday that Hwang wasn’t telling the truth.Roh – who co-authored the article and is chairman of the board at a leading Seoul hospital – ignited a firestorm Thursday by saying Hwang had pressured a lab worker to falsify research data.”He’s avoiding taking the responsibility that he should take,” Roh said Friday at a separate news conference.He also questioned Hwang’s claims that he created 11 stem cell colonies.”Nine stem cell colonies appear to be fake and two others are not confirmed yet,” Roh told The Associated Press in an interview.Hwang had earlier insisted the 11 cell colonies were created “without 1 percent of doubt.” He said some cells had died due to contamination, but others are now being thawed and will prove his work valid within 10 days.But Roh said he visited Hwang on Thursday and the scientist told him all the cell colonies had died.”What can I say if Hwang changes the remarks he made with his own mouth yesterday?” Roh told the AP.University of Pittsburgh researcher Gerald Schatten has already asked that Science remove his name as the paper’s senior author, citing questions about its accuracy.Kim Sun-jong, the researcher from Roh’s hospital who had reportedly been ordered to fabricate results, defended Hwang on Friday.In an interview with KBS television in the United States, where he now works at the University of Pittsburgh, Kim said he had personally seen eight completed stem cell lines and three more being nurtured.”The stem cells were cultivated through normal procedures, and six members of Hwang’s research team verified them every morning,” Kim said.South Korea’s government said Friday that a scientific review must be conducted to determine the research’s veracity. After an emergency meeting chaired by Prime Minister Lee Hae-chan, the government said it would wait to take further action until the completion of an internal probe by Seoul National University, where Hwang works.The investigation could be over in a week or two if Hwang’s team cooperates fully, said the university’s dean of research affairs, Roe Jung-hye.Hwang has become a national hero in South Korea, and the government has given him $24.7 million for his research.The allegations have stunned the country, which aspires to be a center of global stem cell research, and sent stock market prices down sharply Friday after a monthlong rally.”The burgeoning controversy not only deals a severe setback to the nation’s desire to become the hub of global stem cell research, but seriously erodes its credibility in the world community,” The Korea Times wrote in an editorial.Last month, Hwang publicly apologized after admitting that, despite earlier denials, he’d violated international ethics guidelines by using eggs from two female scientists in his lab.Hwang also then stepped down as head of the World Stem Cell Hub, an international project launched in October and aimed at finding treatments for incurable diseases.Hwang claimed last year to have cloned the world’s first human embryos and extracted stem cells from them, and announced the world’s first cloned dog in August – achievements that have not been directly questioned.Amid the controversy, some were not giving up on Hwang. Jeong Ha-gyun attended Hwang’s news conference in a wheel chair to give his support.”When I had a spinal injury 21 years ago, it was a death sentence that I couldn’t walk again,” said Jeong, 50, head of the Korea Spinal Cord Injury Association.But, with talk of stem cells, “I began to hold a string of hope. I want to keep holding that string of hope,” he said.