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Hwang Didn't Notice Forged Research

By BO-MI LIM
The Associated Press
Tuesday, September 19, 2006; 6:39 AM

SEOUL, South Korea -- A researcher accused of fabricating data for scientist Hwang Woo-suk's now-discredited stem cell research claimed Tuesday that Hwang's negligence in detecting the faked results enabled him to repeatedly forge scientific evidence.

The comments came after lawyers began their defense Tuesday at the trial of Hwang and his colleagues over fabricated evidence they used to back claims of their once-internationally heralded work in stem cell research.

Hwang was indicted in May for allegedly accepting $2.1 million in private donations based on the outcome of the falsified research, and of embezzling about $850,000 in private and government research funds. If convicted, he faces at least three years in prison.

Another five of Hwang's colleagues face similar charges at the trial, which started in June.

Kim Sun-jong, indicted for tampering with research, told the court Tuesday: "Everything is my fault."

Kim, a specialist in cultivating embryos, allegedly brought ordinary stem cells _ created from fertilized eggs, not from cloned embryos _ to Hwang's lab and claimed they were patient-specific stem cells.

The researcher, however, said Hwang had never questioned the obvious difference between the original embryonic stem cells that were being cultured at Hwang's lab and the switched ones.

If Hwang had detected the misdeeds earlier, Kim said he wouldn't have dared to switch several cell lines.

The testimony appeared to back Hwang's repeated assertion since the start of the research scandal last year that he was a victim of underlings who deceived him.

The claims to have cloned human embryos and extracted stem cells from them were published in international journals in 2004 and 2005 to worldwide acclaim, thrusting Hwang to the forefront of researchers working to use stem cells to develop cures for various human ailments.

Stem cells can grow into any body tissue, raising the possibility that patients could be treated with cells matching their own DNA to defeat now-incurable diseases.

Kang Sung-keun, another researcher on Hwang's team also on trial, said Tuesday he detected the faked data before the papers were published, but that he was unable to question Hwang as his senior.

"I deeply repent and regret my mistakes as a scientist," Kang said.

At earlier hearings, Hwang has testified that he ordered subordinates to falsify data to make it look like he had more success at cloning stem cells. However, he has maintained that he believed the fundamental research was real.

Hwang, a trained veterinarian, was fired from the country's top school, Seoul National University, over the scandal and is also being stripped of state honors.

Still, Hwang was back at work last month in a new private lab, where he is focusing on animal stem cell research.

© 2006 The Associated Press