Friday, December 16, 2005

A National Hero Tumbles

"He's not a politician, a tycoon, or a pop star. But these days, Hwang Woo-suk may enjoy more popularity and respect in South Korea than the hottest celebrity..... The government even issued a postage stamp in his honor in February that juxtaposes an image of growing stem cells with silhouettes of a man rising from a wheelchair, walking, and embracing another person."
Businessweek Article
Earlier this year, South Korea scientist Hwang Woo-suk reported to have cloned the first tailored human embryo to use for research. His group at Seoul National University was also known for cloning the first human embryo, and first clone dog in the world. The study is an important step stone between cloning research and therapeutic needs, as it found how to grow stem cells from a piece of skin taken from the patient. He was hailed by his colleagues all around the globe, "I am amazed at how much they have accomplished in just a year and the amount, the quality and the rigorousness of their evidence," said Dr. Gerald Schatten of the University of Pittsburgh in a telephone interview. Dr. Schatten is also a co-author of Dr. Hwang's 2005 Science paper. Dr. Schatten has been a wisteria around the pergola of Dr. Hwang discoveries in stem cell researches. Two duo recently met in October, when Schatten was reported asking for the chair of the board of a research center funded by South Korean government. Soon various questions and speculations surround Dr. Hwang's research began emerging in the South Korean press.

Today, Dr. Hwang and his team were accused of data fabrication. The issue came into spotlight after reports in the Korean press alleged Dr. Huang of using young female subordinates' eggs, which would be a serious violation of scientific and academic ethics. However, on Nov 10th, Dr. Gerald Schaten reassured the Science that 'none of the oocytes used in Dr. Hwang's 2004 or 2005 science papers were obtained from reimbursed women donors'. By now we have learned that his reassurance was not true, but it did effectively quell the debate until more controversies was raised by a Nov 22nd TV report on Dr. Hwang made by a Korean television station MBC. The plot has another sharp turn on Dec 4th 2005 when MBC publicly apologized for the aforementioned report.

Dr. Schatten was back on the center of the turmoil as the corresponding author for high resolution images when Science noticed some discrepancies of the images they presented in the peer-reviewed version PDF file, and the file camera-ready version file. The images were alleged and later admitted to be duplicated or fake. On Dec 13th, 2005. Dr. Schatten asked Science to have him removed as a co-author of Dr. Hwang's 2005 paper.

On Dec 14th, Dr. Ian Wilmut of the University of Edinburgh, teams up with a crew of first class scientists expressed concerns over the public awareness of the scandal. They made an appeal to the Science which called for containing the dispute within the 'scientific community', in stead of the on-going 'trail in the press'. Join the choir, there are Drs. Michael West and Robert Lanze of Advanced Cell Technology, Dr John Gearhart of John Hopkins University, Dr. Austin Smith of the University of Edinburgh, Dr. Alan Colman of EL Cell International, Dr. Alan Trounson of Monash University and Dr. Keith Campbell of University of Nottingham.

In South Korea, thousands women lined up at the door of Dr. Hwang's lab to donate their eggs for his experiment. They hold mugunghwa, the national flower, and sing Aegukga, the national anthem to support their national hero at a very difficult time.

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