Disgraced scientist registers new stem cell line

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Disgraced scientist registers new stem cell line

A stem cell line developed by disgraced scientist Hwang Woo-suk was registered with the government, said the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Tuesday.

The CDC, however, was not able confirm whether the stem cell line, “Sooam-hES-1,” was created through cloning or parthenogenesis, a process by which an egg starts embryonic development without being fertilized by sperm. They said that this could not be confirmed because of a lack of evidence submitted by Hwang.

Hwang became famous in 2004 after claiming to have created an embryonic stem cell line from a cloned human embryo, but in 2005 it was discovered he had faked his research. In 2006, he was charged with bioethics law violations and embezzlement, since 10 billion won ($9 million) in government funds and private donations were missing, and he was fired from Seoul National University, where he taught veterinary science.

In 2014, the Supreme Court found Hwang guilty of bioethical violations and embezzling some 2 billion won and he was sentenced to two years in prison, which was later reduced to 18 months. He then teamed up with Boyalife Group, a Chinese biotech company, in late 2015.

Also that year, he received attention when The Guardian reported on his commercial dog cloning service, which offers to provide cloned puppies for a clean 116.7 million won.

The new Sooam-hES-1, which is also known as NT-1, the stem cell line Hwang unveiled in 2004, has been developed through somatic cloning, or cloned embryos.

Hwang applied to register Sooam-hES-1 as a stem cell line in May 2010 but was rejected by the center in September that year. He again applied in July last year.

The CDC requested supplementary material and, after Hwang turned in a fifth round of additional documents in late October, it issued a registration certificate for his stem cell line.

This process was in accordance with the Enforcement Decree of Bioethics and Safety Act, which since 2010 stipulated the formal registration of stem cell lines to confirm that it was established following consent procedures and that it has been scientifically validated.

A committee of 11 experts reviewed the stem cell line to verify the documents submitted by Hwang, but the committee was unable to confirm whether the stem cell line was created through cloning or parthenogenesis.

Jeong Ki-Seok, director of the CDC, said that the stem cell line registration process is designed to ensure that “the stem cell line developed from the embryo passes scientific and ethical review to enable confidence in Korean stem cell research.”

The registration process will be finalized with the approval of the Ministry of Health and Welfare, which is expected to happen later this week.

Hwang’s return raises hopes for some about the stem cell research industry in Korea, which suffered from his shocking international disgrace a decade ago. The Korean government banned research using human eggs in 2009, following Hwang’s scandal.

In July, the Ministry of Health and Welfare approved Professor Lee Dong-ryul of CHA University in Pocheon, Gyeonggi, to carry out a project in embryonic stem cells, resuming controversial research that has been shut down for seven years.

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]
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