GUEST VIEWPOINT: DESIRE FOR GLORY LED TO A SCIENTIFIC SCANDAL by Tom Pauken II
by Special to DallasBlog.com
Mon, Dec 26, 2005, 01:42 PM
Dr. Hwang Woo-sukFor some, fame and fortune are fleeting. One day a person dazzles the media and the next day he becomes a scourge to the public. Dr. Hwang Woo-suk, a former veterinary professor at Seoul National University, is an example of that phenomenon.
On February, 2004 Dr. Hwang announced that he had cloned a human embryo and recovered stem cells. This news brought hope to supporters of cloning and those who believed this breakthrough would help cure diabetes and Parkinson’s. Politically, his announcement caused the debate on the ethics of cloning heat up in intensity.
South Koreans felt pride that this pioneer came from their nation. The South Korean government offered Dr. Hwang a $65 million grant to continue his research and anointed him as their number one scientist.
Hwang Woo-suk received even more international publicity when he published an article for Science magazine’s May 2005 edition. He reported that his lab had created 11 lines of embryonic stem cells genetically matched to patients.
Some predicted that his achievement could help the paralyzed to walk. Hence, the South Korean government commissioned a stamp showing a person rising from a wheel chair, standing and embracing a loved one.
Shortly afterwards, he wrote an article for Nature magazine claiming he cloned a dog named ‘Snuppy’. A few scientific magazines even declared Hwang Woo-suk as one of the top scientists in the world.
But, Dr. Hwang did not sustain the worldwide acclaim he was receiving, for he was a man willing to sacrifice scientific honesty in pursuit of world-wide recognition.
In November 2005, Dr. Gerald Schatten from the University of Pittsburgh announced the end of his partnership with Dr. Hwang. Previously, he was the senior author of the Science article on stem cells. He had learned that eggs from embryonic stem cells were obtained through female employees at Dr. Hwang’s lab. This ethical breach shocked the scientific community because it appeared that Dr. Hwang coerced his employees to participate in the experiment.
Nonetheless, thousands of Koreans demonstrated in support of Dr. Hwang for his pioneering work on cloning even after the doctor admitted to this ethical lapse and promised to go into seclusion.
But he did not hide for long. Dr. Hwang held a nationally televised press conference on Dec. 16, 2005 to address the issue that he had possibly fabricated stem cells for Science magazine. He proclaimed his innocence and blamed the disappearance of his stem cells due to contamination and mishandling by Miz-medi hospital. He called for a prosecutorial investigation against the hospital.
Roh Sung-il, the head of Miz-medi hospital, told the Korean media that Dr. Hwang had admitted to him that he had fabricated stem cells. Nevertheless, Dr. Hwang did show some honesty during the press conference by asking to retract his article from Science magazine due to fatal flaws.
Then Kim Seon-jung, a former junior researcher for Dr. Hwang revealed to reporters that Dr. Hwang had demanded he fabricate stem cells for Science magazine. So, the researcher plagiarized pictures of different stem cells from the 2003 journal of Cells and Molecules.
Accordingly, Seoul National University started DNA testing on the 11 stem cells to determine if Dr. Hwang really created them. It was announced on December. 23, 2005 that at least 9 of 11 stem cells were fabricated. He was abruptly fired by the University. Both Science and Nature magazine began their own investigation on all papers submitted by Dr. Hwang. They expressed grave doubts that he had made any new discoveries for cloning.
Dr. Hwang wanted to become a famous scientist, and he achieved that goal. But, he will be more recognized for damaging the reputation of scientists, causing shame to his country, and shattering the hopes of those who suffer from diseases and were given a false hope that Dr. Hwang Woo-suk had a cure for their problems.
His ambition led to his success as well as assured his doom.