Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

What's Next for Korea's Stem-Cell Research? ; A Report Concludes Cloning Results Were Faked, but Says Scandal Could Strengthen Research in Long Term

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

What's Next for Korea's Stem-Cell Research? ; A Report Concludes Cloning Results Were Faked, but Says Scandal Could Strengthen Research in Long Term

Article excerpt

Exposure of one of history's greatest medical hoaxes may, in the end, be what Korea needs to emerge as a scientific power.

A month-long investigation suggested just that in a report released Tuesday, which saw the scandal as a "stepping stone for better execution and scientific research" that could even "contribute to scientific advancement in this country." Moreover, it added, "The young scientists who courageously pointed out the fallacy and precipitated the initiation of this investigation are our hope for the future."

Around the campus of Seoul National University (SNU), home to now discredited stem-cell researcher Hwang Woo-Suk, professors and researchers share that philosophical approach. The episode, many say, may mark a turning point in Korea's drive for global recognition as more than just a commercial or economic success.

"This scandal taught us really a lot," says Kim Sun Young, a molecular biologist with degrees from Oxford, Harvard, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "We basically paid a $50 million price for the lesson," he says in sardonic reference to the total advanced by the government to finance Mr. Hwang's laboratory.

Hwang's team published its initial paper in the journal Science in 2004, claiming to have cloned the first human stem cell. They published their second seemingly breakthrough paper last year claiming to have cloned 11 human stem-cell lines.

It was after the investigation, spurred by dissident scientists in Hwang's lab, that another SNU team led by medical professor Chung Myung Hee published its "final report" denouncing both papers as "fabricated."

Possibly the only consolation is that the report, largely written by Dr. Chung, acknowledges that an Afghan hound Snuppy, short for Seoul National University Puppy, was indeed a "cell clone" of its mother, as Hwang claimed last year in the journal Nature.

Mr. Kim, who does research in gene therapy and has founded the university's first venture company, ViroMed, worries that the government "may slow down on research in general."

The government's first response after the final report was to pull out of a global stem-cell project set up at Seoul National University Hospital for research on individual patients. Beside abandoning a plan to provide more than $11 million for the project, the health and welfare ministry says it will look more closely into subsidies for any research - and will call for revising the law on bioethics.

In the end, Kim sees tight ethics control as ensuring a revival in government support.

The university "should and will set up an office of scientific integrity," says Kim. "Probably all institutions will set up such offices. …

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