South Korea's pioneering stem cell researcher has denied he fabricated key parts of his widely acclaimed research. Allegations that Dr. Hwang Woo-suk faked his research have shocked South Korea.
Dr. Hwang Woo-suk reached hero status in South Korea last year, after he announced breakthroughs in stem cell research. But, since last month, doubts have been growing over the authenticity of his findings.
On Thursday, Roh Sung-il, a scientist who helped obtain human eggs for Dr. Hwang and who co-authored a ground-breaking scientific paper with him, said that nine of 11 stem cell lines Dr. Hwang claimed to have produced never existed. He said the authenticity of the other two was in doubt.
On Friday, Dr. Hwang admitted that some of the cell colonies, which he reported in a paper published in the journal Science in May, had since died because of contamination. He said he is asking Science to retract the paper because of the controversy.
But he denied the allegations of fraud, and said his basic research was sound. Dr. Hwang said his research team made 11 patient-specific embryonic stem cells, and they still have the technology to produce them. He said five frozen stem cells are now being thawed to prove the authenticity of his work.
Seoul National University, where Dr. Hwang conducts his research, says it is investigating Dr. Hwang's work. Dr. Hwang said he would welcome a probe by prosecutors to clear his name.
Dr. Hwang stunned the world last year by becoming the first to report cloning a human embryo capable of producing stem cells. Stem cells can develop into different body parts, and experts say the research offers the possibility of renewable cells and tissues to treat such diseases as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's.
Dr. Hwang's troubles started in November, when a South Korean television documentary exposed ethical lapses in his research. He admitted then that two women researchers on his team had donated their eggs for the research, and that some other women had been paid for their eggs. An American collaborator withdrew from the project, saying he was concerned about possible problems with the research.
The South Korean public rallied behind Dr. Hwang. Some advertisers boycotted the television station that ran the damaging documentary. President Roh Moo-hyun said he was "irritated" by the program.
The growing controversy has shocked South Korea, and if the latest charges of falsification are true, it could damage the reputation of the country's biotechnology industry. The latest news hurt South Korean pharmaceutical and biotechnology stocks, pulling the Korean stock index down more than one percent on Friday.