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Hwang Stem Cell Saga Continues

by  Brad Harrub, Ph.D.

Two weeks ago, we announced that Korean cloning researcher Woo Suk Hwang had resigned because of serious unethical practices. Those charges involved Hwang’s team paying female lab assistants for eggs that were used in stem cell research. Two days after that announcement was made, it became clear that this was merely the tip of the iceberg. Hwang’s entire professional career is now under question.

In 2004, Hwang made the news by allegedly creating 30 human embryo clones (see Harrub and Thompson, 2004). Then in June 2005, he published a groundbreaking paper in Science in which his team purportedly created embryonic stem cell lines from 11 patients suffering from diabetes (Hwang, et al., 2005). In August 2005, Hwang’s team released another startling report that they had successfully cloned a dog (Lee, et al., 2005). All of these studies are now under question, as hints of scientific misconduct have begun to surface.

In a report in Science, Dennis Normile, Gretchen Vogel, and Constance Holden observed: “Acknowledging that his team made ‘various serious errors and shortfalls,’ cloning researcher Woo Suk Hwang has asked Science to retract his celebrated paper reporting the creation of embryonic stem (ES) cells from 11 patients....” They continued:

[I]n early December on a Korean Web site, an anonymous writer, who claims to be a life scientist, pointed out duplications in some of the photographs of ES cells published in the 2005 paper. According to a Science statement, a few hours later Hwang notified Science’s editorial offices of what he called “an unintentional error” that led to “about 4 pictures being used redundantly” (2005, p. 1886).

Hwang has been labeled a liar by Sung Il Roh, the expert who collected oocytes from donors for Hwang’s work and was listed as one of the authors in the 2005 stem cell paper. In addition, computer storage drives have been seized and surveillance cameras have been mounted in the culturing lab to “catch any unauthorized comings and goings” (p. 1887). It appears that Hwang—once the “top scientist” for Korea—has committed grave errors that appear to be purposeful fabrication. The Associated Press wire noted: “Choi Sung-sik, vice minister of science and technology, said it’s impossible to recover money already spent for Hwang, a total 40.5 billion won (US $39.9 million, 33.75 euros) for research and facilities since 1998. But his ministry will look at ending other funding and withdraw the ‘top scientist’ designation” (see “AP Wire,” 2005).

After seven years and millions of dollars, it appears as though stem cell research is no closer to offering the magic “cure” that the media continues to promise. In his report, Washington Post staff-writer Rick Weiss quoted Richard Doerflinger, deputy director of pro-life activities in the U.S., who noted: “It’s all very well to say one scandal shouldn’t set back the field, but Hwang’s team was the field.” His point should not be missed in that Hwang was supposed to be the leader in this field, so if his data are inaccurate, then the entire field has suffered an enormous setback. Doerflinger also noted: “If his results are false, then after seven years of attempts worldwide no one has succeeded in getting even the first step in ‘therapeutic cloning’ to work on a practical scale. At what point do legislators stop throwing away good money after bad?” Excellent question!

This scandal comes just months after the report that “Most published scientific research papers are wrong, according to a new analysis” (Kleiner, 2005). This admission came from work carried out by John Ioannidis, an epidemiologist who boldly asserted that there is a less than 50% chance that the results of any randomly chosen scientific paper are true (see Harrub, 2005). Sadly, many in this country have elevated science to a position of deity. They hold scientific findings above the inspired Word of God. Hopefully, this realization will demonstrate the error in that thinking. The real story in this scientific debacle is not a loss of $40 million dollars, but rather the tragic loss of human life used in Hwang’s experimentation, and the clay feet of men.


AP Wire” (2005), “Panel Says Stem Cell Work Faked,” CNN, [On-line] URL:

Harrub, Brad (2005), “Unreliable Science,” Reason & Revelation, 4[10]:40-R, [On-line], URL:

Harrub, Brad and Bert Thompson (2004), “Edging our Way Toward a Human Clone,” [On-line], URL:

Hwang, Woo Suk, et al., (2005), “Patient-Specific Embryonic Stem Cells Derived from Human SCNT Blastocytes,” Science, 308:1777-1783, June 17.

Kleiner, Kurt (2005), “Most Scientific Papers are Probably Wrong,” New Scientist, [On-line], URL,

Lee, Byeong Chun, et al., (2005), “Dogs Cloned from Adult Somatic Cells,” Nature, 436:641-642, August 25.

Normile, Dennis, Gretchen Vogel, and Constance Holden (2005), “Cloning Researcher Says Work is Flawed but Claims Results Stand,” Science, 310:1886-1887, December 23.

Weiss, Rick (2005), “Stem Cell Fraud Worries U.S. Scientists,” The Washington Post, December 24, p. A02, [On-line], URL: 22301518.html?sub=new.

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