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South Korean Stem Cell Research Pioneer In 'Poor Health'

Support continues to grow in South Korea for groundbreaking stem cell researcher Hwang Woo-sok, even as he has gone into seclusion to avoid an ongoing ethics controversy. Dr. Hwang's colleagues say the stress has affected his health, while television producers who fueled the controversy are admitting they used unethical tactics.

Nearly two weeks after he admitted covering up questionable ethical practices, Dr. Hwang Woo-sok remains in isolation.

His self-imposed seclusion is a sharp contrast to the high profile he achieved earlier this year, as the first researcher to clone human embryonic stem cells. One of the basic building blocks of the human body, stem cells are viewed as a possible cure for many diseases.

Dr. Hwang publicly admitted last month that he had violated ethical standards, by using human eggs from junior researchers on his staff and paid donors. He resigned from his official positions, and disappeared from public view.

His research colleague, Ahn Gyu-ri, says the stress of recent events has taken a toll on Dr. Hwang's health.

Dr. Ahn says Dr. Hwang is experiencing fatigue and symptoms more severe than a common cold. She says he may possibly enter a hospital soon.

Despite Dr. Hwang's admission of ethical lapses, support for him and his research continues to pour forth at many levels of South Korean society. A spokesman for President Roh Moo-hyun says he hopes the ethics controversy settles down soon.

Mr. Kim says President Roh hopes Dr. Hwang will return to his research lab soon for the sake of people with degenerative diseases.

Lawmakers from South Korea's ruling party and main opposition party have formed a coalition to support Dr. Hwang. They say they will try to help him focus purely on research, rather than being forced to juggle public relations and promotional activities as well.

Meanwhile, the television network that helped expose the ethics scandal is admitting that its own ethics in pursuing the story were questionable.

An announcer for South Korea's MBC network read an on-air apology Sunday for actions taken by the producers of its PD Notebook documentary program. MBC admits the producers intimidated colleagues of Dr. Hwang into taking part in their investigation.

Dr. Hwang is so popular in South Korea that the network suffered a serious blow to its reputation after it aired the expose. The program's advertisers have withdrawn their support following threats of viewer boycotts.

MBC producers had been preparing a second program, this one challenging Dr. Hwang's research. The fate of that program is now in question because of the public backlash.

Dr. Hwang's colleagues say they will no longer cooperate with the network, but will not prevent other scientists from examining their research.