The disgraced South Korean researcher whose breakthrough cloning research was exposed as a fraud in 2005 now faces up to four years in prison. Prosecutors asked for the four-year sentence in court today, where the researcher, Hwang Woo-suk, is standing trial for fraud, misusing $2.25 million in state funds, and violating bioethics laws by illegally buying human eggs for his research. “The people’s disappointment was very serious because their expectation for his stem cell research had been high,” an unidentified prosecutor told the courtroom. He said Hwang tarnished South Korea’s image abroad…. Hwang pleaded for leniency, saying if the court forgives him he is ready to “pour the last of my passion” into research [AP].
Hwang became a national hero to South Korea in 2004, when he claimed to have cloned human embryonic stem cells, a feat that was thought to be impossible because of the complexities of human cells. Embryonic stem cells are of great interest to medical researchers because they can develop into any kind of adult cell, and could theoretically be used to replace malfunctioning cells that cause disease. A year later, Hwang said the team created human embryonic stem cells genetically matched to specific patients — a purported breakthrough that promised a way to withstand rejection by a patient’s immune system [AP].
But Hwang’s moment of glory didn’t last long. An investigation team at Seoul National University, where Hwang once worked, said in late 2005 that Hwang’s team deliberately fabricated vital data in the two papers on human embryonic stem cells. It did verify, however, that Hwang’s team produced the world’s first cloned dog, an Afghan hound named Snuppy [Reuters]. Following the investigation Hwang was banned from continuing his research on human embryo cloning, and he formed a company specializing in dog cloning.
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