The world of science is stunned by Dr. Woo-Suk Hwang
By: Logan Jaffe
South Korean Dr. Woo-Suk Hwang promised to make paralyzed people walk again. Dr. Hwang’s face appeared on Korean postage stamps, he was the president of the World Stem Cell Hub, an international celebrity and all of this due to his success in revolutionary embryonic stem cell research.
Dr. Hwang first became a hero in 1999 after successfully cloning a cow, a breakthrough in bioengineering. In August of 2005, Nature, a leading science journal, announced he had cloned a dog, an Afghan hound, Snuppy.
However, with 65 million from the South Korean government, it was when Dr. Hwang claimed to have developed embryonic stem cells (ESCs) from 11 patients using a minimal amount of human cells that his claims were investigated and invalidated.
The actual controversy started when another professor, Dr Koo Young-mo, curiously asked Hwang where he was obtaining all of the eggs to work with after hearing that a junior researcher on Hwang’s team offered her own. Hwang denied the accusation. Then, months later, Dr Gerald Schatten, one of Hwang’s co-workers from Pittsburg University, resigned from the team claiming he had been lied to.
This skepticism lead The Seoul National University (SNU) to launch an investigation after Hwang published an article in the prestigious universal journal, Science (June 17, 2005), where Hwang explained his “new findings.” The investigation panel proved that the evidence was fake for at least nine of the 11 patient-specific stem cell lines.
The investigation also proved that volunteer-only egg donation rule was violated. Roh Sung II., MizMedi Hospital director paid 20 females $1,400 each for their eggs, which were later given to Hwang. It was later discovered that the other two female researchers donated their eggs under false names.
But Hwang’s claims weren’t all lies, his process just fell short. Though he was successful in cloning a number of human embryos last year, he did not extract the actual stem cell lines from them.
Hwang then resigned from SNU as a gesture of repentance, though he plans to continue his research. His disregard for scientific ethics harmed his career, but South Korean’s still support him as egg donations are more abundant than ever.
For South Korea stem cell research seemed to be the nation’s pride, a way to keep up with other nations’ advancements. Dr. Hwang became a social icon, responsible for increased Korean nationalism. To South Korea, Hwang was more than a scientist. He instilled hope that the country would lead the global cloning revolution. This nation-wide feeling plummeted after the scandal.
“There was this desire to move ahead rapidly, and Hwang was supposed to be the person to pull this cart,” Prof. Herbert Gottweis at the University of Vienna quoted in a January New York Times article.
However, while some believe that Hwang’s incident was tragic to the development of stem cell research, others believe it was only a minor setback. Opponents of stem cell research confirmed their ideals regarding the misleading scientific data and the overall immorality of cloning. Advocates, on the other hand, aren’t worried that Hwang was too detrimental to the field.
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|STEM CELL FACTS|
|Wikipedia.com: Embryonic stem cells (ESCs) are “derived from the undifferentiated inner mass cells of a human embryo… and thought to have much greater development potential.” Simply meaning, if a specific DNA is inserted into an ESC, it can become any type of human cell. (lung, heart, kidney) This makes ESCs the most desirable element of stem cell research, as they could replace diseased or injured tissue.|