from cloned human embryos. In February 2004 scientists at the Seoul National University (SNU) in South Korea announced the first isolation of stem cells from a cloned human embryo. In May 2005 this same group announced they had achieved major advances in the efficiency of creating human cloned embryos using SCNT and in isolating human stem cells from the cloned embryos. These eleven new stem cell lines were derived using cells from patients with either spinal cord injury, diabetes, or an immune deficiency and offered the hope of one day providing treatments with patient-matched cells.4 The team attributed the improved success rate in part to the use of freshly harvested eggs from younger fertile women instead of leftover eggs from older women who received fertility treatments.5
However, serious concerns about the achievements of the SNU group began in November 2005 when a co-author of the 2005 paper, Gerald Schatten of the University of Pittsburgh, accused Woo Suk Hwang, the lead researcher of the SNU group, of ethical misconduct.6 In violation of some ethical standards and contrary to statements made in the 2005 paper, junior scientists in the SNU lab secretly donated their own eggs for the experiments and they along with other women received payment for their role. The accusation halted plans for a collaboration between the SNU scientists and US and UK labs that had been announced only one month earlier and resulted in Hwang resigning from all public positions on November 24, 2005.
On December 12, 2005, Schatten asked that his name be removed from the 2005 paper when he learned that the work may have been fabricated.7 In early December, scientists in South Korea began questioning the validity of photographs and other scientific evidence presented in the 2005 paper and called for an independent analysis of the data. The University of Pittsburgh and SNU began separate investigations into the charges. On December 15, 2005, another co-author of the 2005 paper, Sung Il Roh, stated to the Korean media that the research had been fabricated and that the 2005 paper should be retracted. Hwang agreed to the retraction on December 16, but continued to defend the scientific results. 8
A preliminary report released on December 23, 2005, by SNU stated that nine of the eleven stem cell lines described in the 2005 paper were deliberately fabricated
4 Gretchen Vogel, “Korean Team Speeds Up Creation of Cloned Human Stem Cells,” Science, vol. 308, May 20, 2005, pp. 1096-1097.
5 In both cases, women receive a series of hormone injections that stimulate the ovaries to produce multiple eggs which are removed via a surgical procedure. There is a small chance (up to 5%) that a woman will over respond to the hormone injections resulting in complications; in rare situations the outcome is fatal. The long-term consequences of the hormone injections are unknown.
6 Gretchen Vogel, “Collaborators Split over Ethics Allegations” Science, Nov. 18, 2005, p. 1100.
7 The Associated Press, “South Korean’s Cloning Research Challenged,” The New York Times, Dec. 13, 2005.
8 Gordan Fairclough, “South Korean Scientist Denies Falsifying Stem-Cell Research,” The Wall Street Journal, Dec. 17, 2005, p. A4.