Published : 2010-04-06 14:46
Updated : 2010-04-06 14:46
Scientist Hwang Woo-suk fabricated his stem cell research published in journal Science this year and asked the journal to retract his paper, a close associate said yesterday.
Roh Sung-il, one of co-authors, said that it seems that nine out of the 11 stem cells were fake and he was not sure whether the other two were authentic.
"There were two stem cells or none," Roh said in an interview with KBS-TV. He said he currently tests the two stem cell lines No. 2 and No. 3 which had been distributed to his MizMedi Hospital and Seoul National University to which Hwang’s team is affiliated.
In May, Hwang`s team announced that it had produced 11 different embryos from cells of patients and cultivated stem cell lines from them.
However, Roh said nine patient-tailored embryonic stem cells were indeed derived from embryos taken from a fertility clinic, not from the cloned cells of patients.
Roh said he decided to disclose the fact after Hwang told him yesterday morning that there remain no embryonic stem cells.
The close collaborator of Hwang then confirmed from his subordinate working in the United States that Hwang had instructed him to fabricate photographs for the paper.
Kim Seon-jong, a junior researcher of Hwang, also told MBC television network that Hwang had asked him to make up different stem-cell images out of two cells for publication in Science. The cell lines he received from Hwang were No. 2 and 3, Kim said in a recorded interview with MBC.
Lee Wang-jae, a senior SNU official, confirmed that the research was fake.
"Hwang`s research team admitted that there were no embryonic stem cells which it claimed had created," said Lee who was tapped to lead a SNU committee to investigate his research. "Today is the most shameful day for Korea`s science community."
In this regard, SNU professor Ahn Cu-rie, a key member of Hwang`s research team, also said that she is not convinced of how many stem cells are left at present, according to the MBC TV report.
"Ahn said a considerable number of Hwang`s stem cells were destroyed last year by a fungus that blew in from an adjacent dog farm. The team attempted to revive the destroyed stem cells, but failed," MBC TV said.
"Ahn also admitted that many of Hwang`s stem cells were destroyed or altered, let alone their photos."
Hwang has agreed with other major co-authors to withdraw the paper, according to Roh.
Science said it has not received any such e-mail from Dr. Hwang.
Korean scientists recently raised suspicions that the landmark stem cells may have not existed at all, citing redundant stem-cell images and strikingly similar DNA fingerprints of cells published alongside the paper.
Saying that their photographs are redundant, experts said stem cell lines No. 3, 4, 7, 8, 9, 11 are identical cells and lines No. 5, 6, 10 are also the same.
In Hwang`s original paper, seven cell lines (No. 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8) are complete cells which could be developed in the human body, but Science later corrected that four cell lines (No. 5, 6, 7, 8) are embryos which failed to develop in the human body.
In conclusion, the complete stem cells are only No. 2 and 3.
However, even stem cell line No. 3 is suspected to be the same cell as No. 8 which is not a complete stem cell given their same images.
The DNA fingerprints of stem cell line No. 2 also did not turn out to match the DNA of somatic cells of patients, according to tests conducted by an independent lab at the request of "PD Notebook."
Scientists claimed that stem cell line No. 5 is identical to stem cell line No.1 which was produced by MizMedi Hospital, citing redundant images of the two cells.
Hwang also faced questions regarding the similarity of DNA fingerprint traces of human somatic cells and stem cells in the paper.
Any DNA fingerprints will differ in their peak`s height, alignment and background noise. But experts say several traces in Hwang`s paper seem identical, raising suspicion that the traces may have been faked. They even doubted whether cloned stem cells exist.