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Stem Cell Advance Is Fully Refuted

That marked a significant advance over previous reports in which stem cells had been derived only from conventional embryos made from the fertilization of an egg by a sperm.

Scientists hope to someday create tissues from stem cells that can be transplanted into patients with ailing organs. But unless the cells are genetically matched to a patient, there is a chance the cells will be rejected by the patient's immune system.

Seoul National University researcher Roe Jung Hye, right, said scientist Hwang Woo Suk used ordinary stem cells and photographic fakery.
Seoul National University researcher Roe Jung Hye, right, said scientist Hwang Woo Suk used ordinary stem cells and photographic fakery. (Pool Photo)

The latest report from Roe appeared to stop short of saying the claimed cell lines never existed. Hwang has said that some of his cell colonies were destroyed by fungal contamination. But such cells certainly do not exist now, Roe said, adding: "Hwang's team does not have scientific data to prove they did harvest patient-specific stem cells."

Hwang has also claimed that he was duped by other scientists on his team who, he has suggested, swapped conventional stem cells from the MizMedi fertility clinic in Seoul with his custom-made cells. The investigatory panel has determined that, all told, eight stem cell lines purportedly cloned from patients were actually made at MizMedi. But it has not said who was responsible for the deception.

The panel is looking into Hwang's August claim to have produced the world's fist cloned dog -- an Afghan named Snuppy. Although preliminary results from a human-DNA-testing firm were reported on Wednesday to confirm Snuppy's status as a clone, the panel has called for additional tests by animal DNA specialists.

Also still under a cloud is Hwang's 2004 publication in Science claiming the first creation of stem cells from any cloned human embryo.

"We commissioned additional tests on more samples of the stem cells featured on the 2004 Science article," Roe said.

A Korean news outlet also reported yesterday that two members of Hwang's team now working at the University of Pittsburgh -- Kim Seon Jong and Park Jong Hyuk -- received payments amounting to as much as $50,000 around the time the scandal started to emerge.

Chosun Ilbo reported that at least $20,000 was passed to Kim by another Korean scientist visiting Kim in Pittsburgh. That scientist, identified as Yoon Hyun Soo of Hanyang University, has acknowledged the money transfer, the news agency said, but claimed it was meant not as hush money but to help Kim with medical expenses.

Other news sources in Korea have reported that the Korean spy agency, known as the National Intelligence Service, has also acknowledged delivering funds to Korean researchers at Pitt, but those reports could not be confirmed.

The sole American co-author on the now discredited 2005 Science paper is University of Pittsburgh researcher Gerald Schatten. Schatten was the first to draw attention to the problem in November when he abruptly broke off his 20-month collaboration with Hwang, claiming he had found evidence that the team's results could not be trusted.

Special correspondent Joohee Cho in Seoul contributed to this report.

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