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Controversy Still Surrounds the Work of South Korean Stem Cell Researcher


South Korea has broken ground on a new research center named after Professor Hwang Woo Suk, whose world-renowned stem cell breakthroughs are now in dispute. VOA's Carol Pearson has more on the controversy.

Earlier this year, it was all smiles and accolades for South Korean stem cell pioneer Hwang Woo Suk. In May, Professor Hwang announced his team of scientists had dramatically sped up the creation of human embryonic stem cells. He published his work in a scientific journal.

He reported his team had created the first embryonic stem cells engineered to genetically match injured or sick patients. International researchers welcomed the news. One of them was American cell biologist Gerald Schatten from the University of Pittsburgh, and one of Professor Hwang's research associates.

"We now have hope that human beings' sufferings might someday be alleviated by the breakthroughs enabled by patient specific and embryonic stem cells," he said.

The goal is to use stem cells to grow a patient's own repacement tissue to treat various diseases.

In August, Dr. Hwang's team showed off the world's first cloned dog. Dogs get many of the same diseases that afflict humans. Curing diseases in dogs could pave the way for curing those same diseases in people.

In October, Dr. Hwang opened the first World Stem Cell Foundation at Seoul National University. Since then, questions have come up about the ethics and authenticity of his work.

Professor Hwang has stepped down as director of the research center, and Professor Schatten has ended his association with Professor Hwang. It turned out that women on his staff had donated their own eggs for the experiment, in violation of international ethics.

The women said they were not pressured to do so and Professor Hwang said he did not know the source of the eggs, but later he admitted at some point he did know but said he lied to protect the women's identities. Then in December, there was a controversy over some mis-identified photos in a scientific journal.

In recent days South Koreans have rallied behind Professor Hwang who has been admitted to a hospital in Seoul for treatment of stress and exhaustion. More than 1,000 women have now pledged to donate their eggs for his research.

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