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Hwang requests Science retraction

Turmoil swirls around researcher after co-author says paper on human cloning was based on fabrications

By | December 16, 2005

Science said today (December 16) that Woo-suk Hwang, the Korean cloning researcher, has requested a retraction of a headline-grabbing paper on patient-specific human stem cells. The announcement follows a call for a retraction by co-author Gerald Schatten of the University of Pittsburgh and reports yesterday by Korean media that Hwang had admitted to a colleague that the paper was based on fabricated data.

In an interview yesterday (December 15) on the Korean national broadcaster MBC, Hwang's research collaborator and co-author, Sung Il Roh, said no patient-specific stem cells exist. "When I visited Hwang in hospital early this morning (Thursday), Hwang said there were no cloned embryonic stem cells at all," said Roh, head of infertility clinic Mizmedi Women's Hospital, in an interview quoted in the Korea Times.

"I have waited, thinking that Hwang would announce everything himself since only he is eligible to put a halt to all the suspicions,'' Roh said. "But I decided to go public because Hwang today made comments totally contrary to what we have believed is right. I need to clear away people's suspicion and anguish."

On another Korean television channel, Roh said 9 of 11 stem cell lines reported in the paper were faked, while two had been frozen and their current status was unknown.

According to a report from the Chosun Ilbo paper, Hwang said by phone from his hospital bed that he had urged Roh earlier in the day "to refrain from rash actions" since the geneticist and his team were investigating the matter. Asked whether the stem cells exist, Hwang said, "We are checking now."

The Korean Times also quoted Wang-jae Lee at Seoul National University (SNU) as confirming Roh's claims. Lee was expected to lead the university's investigation panel into Hwang's research. "We already learned there are no embryonic stem cells and Prof. Ahn Cu-rie (Hwang's associate) also knows it. We can declare today as a day of national infamy," Lee said in the paper.

Questions about Hwang's work began to arise internationally in late November after an MBC program, PD Notebook, revealed ethical lapses in his work. His main US collaborator, Gerald Schatten, has since taken several steps to distance himself from the Korean researcher, culminating in a request to Science this week that his name be struck from the author list of the article.

Last week, Seoul National University began investigating allegations about Hwang's work. Science is also investigating. The journal said Hwang had told them he would contact his co-authors, since retractions require that all co-authors agree on the move.

Hwang could not be contacted by deadline.

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