Scientist Hwang Apologizes Amid Disgrace But Defends His Stem Cell Research

Once regarded as the world's leading stem cell pioneer, Hwang Woo-Suk apologized to fellow South Koreans.
( [email protected] ) Jan 12, 2006 03:17 PM EST

Once regarded as the world's leading stem cell pioneer, Hwang Woo-Suk apologized to fellow South Koreans in his first public appearance since his work was denounced as fake.

In a nationally televised news conference, Hwang faced the media on Thursday saying, "The use of fake data ... is what I have to take full responsibility for as first author."

"I acknowledge all of that and apologize once again. I ask for your forgiveness. I feel so miserable that it's difficult even to say sorry."

Amid the apology, he defended his research claiming that he has the technology to use cloning to create human embryonic stem cells to match a specific patient if he had access to enough eggs.

In further defending himself, he accused junior researchers at the Seoul-based Mizmedi Hospital for lying to him, saying that his team had successfully extracted stem cells from the teams cloned human embryos, and that he believed the papers were legitimate when they were published.

Two days earlier, a panel at Seoul National University found that both research papers in 2004, on having successfully cloned the world's first stem cells from a cloned human embryo, and in 2005, on developing 11 stem cell lines tailored to match specific patients, were falsified.

After investigations began, evangelical Christians and Catholics criticized Hwang on his ethics. Not only did his research involve stem cells taken from human embryos, which they see as equivalent to a human life, they criticized Hwang for lying about payments his team made to two female junior researchers on his team for their eggs, an act viewed by scientists as unethical because it involves coercing donors.

Evangelical Christians have actively opposed research involving human embryos, opting for other routes, such as adult stem cells.

Researcher and scientist Dr. Richard Yen, a PhD graduate in genetics from U.C. Berkeley who did human chromosome studies at U.C. San Diego, and worked as a senior scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory for application of biology in space, the space shuttle program, is one such Christian.

"Embryos are not just a groups of cells, such as a piece of skin. If you destroy the piece of skin, the person still lives. But if you destroy the embryo, that baby will not be born," Yen said who is also the chairperson and advisor for the West Coast Chinese Christian Conference and has been since 1971.

"Adult stem cells can be harvested from a patient with machines already in use in blood banks, and being genetically identical to the patient, they appear to be effective in repairing heart muscle damages, such as after a heart attack," Yen said.

Hwang's research was hailed by scientists as a breakthrough for one day finding cures to debilitating diseases such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and diabetes.

Under the maelstrom of investigations, Hwang's laboratory and home were raided by investigators on Thursday for evidence that would reveal he fabricated his research, according to The Korea Times. There is speculation that Hwang may be indicted on charges of fraud or embezzlement for the government funding he received for his research.