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Stem cell researcher denies fabrication: Buddhist Newspaper

Yonhap, Jan 1, 2006

SEOUL, South Korea -- Disgraced South Korean scientist Hwang Woo-suk has denied his landmark 2005 paper on cloning was a sham and called on prosecutors to conduct a probe into his claim that his patient-matched stem cells were stolen, according to a Buddhist newspaper Saturday.

Hwang, once celebrated as a national hero for his team's cloning breakthroughs, is now derided as a con artist for seemingly fabricating all of the stem cell lines he claimed were tailored to patients in the paper carried in the U.S. journal Science.

"It is certain that a switch was made and experts will be able to see this immediately. An investigation by prosecutors will only take about two days," he said in an interview with the Beopbo newspaper.

Earlier this month, Hwang filed a complaint with the prosecution, saying Kim Seon-jong, who admitted to duplicating photographs of DNA carried in Hwang's paper, might have been involved in swapping Hwang's stem cells with fertilized eggs from MizMedi Hospital.

On Thursday, Seoul National University's investigation panel said new stem cell lines allegedly created by Hwang did not in fact exist, confirming that he fabricated his research results for the 11 patient-tailored stem cells.

Hwang claimed in the paper published in May that he had created 11 colonies of human embryonic stem cells that were genetically matched to specific patients. The paper has now been largely discredited.

Probes into Hwang's other groundbreaking experiments, including one to verify that he legitimately produced the world's first cloned dog, are still underway at the university where he worked before stepping down last week.

Meanwhile, other allegations came to light that Hwang received a promise from his female researchers to donate their ova for experiments conducted for his 2004 paper, also carried in Science. His 2004 paper put him as the first scientist to clone a human embryo.

Hwang was forced to resign from all public posts after admitting on Nov. 24 that he had violated ethical guidelines by using in his research eggs donated by two female assistants working under him.

But he denied that the female researchers were forced to donate their eggs, saying he was not aware of how exactly the eggs were procured for the experiments.

"There are suspicions that he made some kind of agreement with his researchers before the paper came out in 2004," the Rev. Lee Dong-ik, a member of the National Ethics Committee, said. "It shows there may have been an atmosphere of coercion, forcing them to donate their ova."

During an interview with PBS, a Catholic radio broadcasting station, the priest recalled hearing that a researcher under Hwang had made a testimony to that effect.

"So I raised the issue at a meeting of the committee on Friday, and the committee will try to ascertain the truth," he said.

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