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South Korean Stem-Cell Fraud May Not Be What You Think


By James Donahue

Dec. 29, 2005


Professor Hwang Woo-suk of Seoul National University stands today in international shame after fellow scientists claim his breakthrough work in establishing tailor-made human embryonic stem cells was a fraud.


After climbing to the height of scientific fame with his paper in the U.S. journal Science, maintaining 11 different lines of unique custom-made embryonic stem cells that had the ability to develop into any type of human tissue, Hwang’s reputation now lies in ruins.


A nine-member panel at the university now says the work was a fabrication and a “major misconduct that undermines the fundamentals of science.”


The panel investigated the work after Hwang’s former colleagues charged that key findings in the paper were false.


Hwang announced his decision to resign as a professor at the university “to apologize for causing such big shocks and disappointment.”


Then he said: “But I’d like to repeat patient-tailored embryonic stem cells are South Korean technology. All of you will confirm it.”


So what was Hwang saying? And what is really going on these days in Seoul?


The announcement by Hwang was an exciting one because laboratories all over the world, except within the Christian-controlled United States, are rushing to prove a theory that the fresh, new gene pool within the embryonic stem cells will pave a way to treat diseases such as Parkinson’s and severe spinal cord injuries.


Embryonic stem cells are taken from days-old embryos called blastocysts and have been shown to have the potential to produce any kind of cell or tissue in the human body.


But the research is controversial, and banned by the Bush Administration in the United States, because some people believe this research is tantamount to destroying human life. The argument is that life begins at conception, thus the scientists are destroying human life.


And here is where Hwang may have gotten himself into big trouble. His accusers are religiously and politically motivated rather than giving any consideration to the accuracy of his research.


I am not a scientist, but I grew up in the home of a scientist, and I have met many researchers and written about them over the years.


If there is anything a researcher like Hwang and the team of geneticists working with him would be unlikely to do, is cheat in their rush to discovery. They would be bright enough to know that anything they might claim in this field would go under intense examination by fellow scientists before it is declared true.


Even if there might have been one maverick in the pack within that lab, surely not all of the researchers on that team were brain dead.


The fact that Hwang said what he did about the work suggests that he has been forced for political reasons to step down for the good name of the university, but that he is still standing firm that his work was correct.


Remember that his paper was published in a United States scientific journal. Also remember that Christianity has been spreading its spiny fingers throughout the far east and making strong inroads in countries like South Korea and Taiwan, where capitalism and the western life style has eroded the ancient ways of the people.


Not having all of the facts, we are in no position to defend Hwang. But we can say that we certainly smell a rotten egg or two.

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