By Hilary White

SEOUL, January 10, 2006 ( – South Korea’s Seoul University has confirmed that Dr. Hwang Woo-Suk faked the results of his experiments in human cloning. Dr. Hwang claimed in papers published in the prestigious journal Science, first in February 2004, to have created a cloned human embryo and to have extracted stem cells from it, and then, in May 2005, to have created 11 lines of stem cells specified to treat particular patients.

The university’s investigation found that Hwang’s stem cells were derived not from clones but from frozen embryos created in IVF facilities. “The research team of Professor Hwang does not possess patient-specific stem cell lines or any scientific bases for claiming having created one,” the report said.

“We reached a conclusion that DNA printing and stem cell photos used in the 2004 paper contained fabrications,” Chung Myung-hee, head of the special panel, said at the press conference.

“There was no scientific evidence that Hwang had produced stem cells,” said Chung.

Public prosecutors in South Korea indicated that they would be seeking charges of fraud if the university investigation showed that Hwang had falsified his work.

Until Hwang’s claim, most scientists agreed that the successful creation of cloned human embryos and the extraction from them of stem cells that could be used to treat patients without risk of tissue rejection, was still years away, if not all but impossible. Hwang’s claim was hailed as the finding of the medical world’s Holy Grail.

An earlier controversy arose when it was revealed that Dr. Hwang had used ova donated, under suspicion of coercion, by junior members of his own research team, a serious violation of ethics. For some years, feminist ethicists have warned that procuring the large numbers of ova required, should cloning become common in medical treatment, leaves women open to exploitation.

Seoul University’s report on Dr. Hwang’s research confirmed that he had not only obtained ova from his research team members, but that he had lied about the numbers used. The report says that while Dr. Hwang admitted to having used 185 “eggs” in fact the number of ova used was far greater.

“A total of 2061 eggs from 129 females have been collected from four hospitals and provided to Professor Hwang’s team. The exact accounting for the number of eggs used for each of Science articles is impossible as the initiation date for each project is uncertain and laboratory recording is not thorough. However, while the 2005 article claims to have used 185 eggs, laboratory notes indicated that at least 273 eggs have been used from September 17 of 2004 to February 7 of 2005.”

Hwang’s cloning “breakthroughs were touted in the media as the first steps to curing a host of degenerative diseases and even slowing or reversing the effects of aging. The scientific community was using the Hwang “discovery” as a political lever to force the Bush administration to reverse its prohibition on public funding for embryo research.

Eminent ethicist, physician and philosophy professor at the University of Chicago, Dr. Leon Kass, who has recently stepped down as chairman of the President’s Council on Bioethics spoke to the Wall Street Journal about the Korean situation. Kass said that the US scientists and media have been “complicit” in Dr. Hwang’s fraud out of “zeal for the politics of stem-cell and cloning research and their hostility to the Bush funding policy.”

Kass, a leading light in the often murky field of bioethics, said, “Concerted efforts have been made these past five years to hype therapeutic cloning, including irresponsible promises of cures around the corner and ‘personalized repair kits’ for every degenerative disease.”

“The need to support these wild claims and the desire to embarrass cloning opponents led to the accelerated publication of Dr. Hwang’s ‘findings.’ . . . We even made him Exhibit A for the false claim that our moral scruples are causing American science to fall behind,” he added.

Read a summary of the text of Seoul University’s report:

Read Wall Street Journal Interview with Dr. Leon Kass: