02 Jan Stem-cell controversies slow progress
While the University of Wisconsin-Madison continues to make stem-cell advances, such as the two proof-of-concept cell cultures announced over the weekend, things aren’t going so well elsewhere in the world:
Hwang Woo-suk, a South Korean stem-cell researcher, fell from grace in just a few weeks as accusations surfaced that he fabricated stem-cell research results.
Originally, the allegations against him were merely that he knew a colleague, Roh Sung-il, had paid two female lab assistants for their eggs, and didn’t tell anyone. He resigned official posts, including his professorship, over the ethical lapse. Joint author Gerald Schatten of the University of Pittsburgh, formerly of the University of Wisconsin before moving to Oregon in 1997, distanced himself from the study.
But under increased scrutiny, reports started to emerge that research data from his team in the journal Science could be cooked – that only two of the 11 supposed stem-cell lines might actually exist. An investigative panel at Seoul National University decided last Thursday he had faked the experiment, according to the Associated Press. Further probes are ongoing.
Hwang denies fabrication, says he can still prove his results, and has alleged that another colleague stole some of his stem cells and swapped them out for other cells.
But in terms of public image the damage has already been done. “Disgraced South Korean embryonic stem cell research scientist” has almost become part of Hwang Woo-suk’s name, and opponents of stem-cell research have a bit more ammunition to fire.
Delays in California
California’s $3 billion stem-cell funding program has not quite been a rousing success. The Monterey Herald reported on Monday that lawsuits have blocked any of the $3 billion in state bonds from being sold. $39 million in grants have been awarded, but the money is yet to come.
Fueled in part by the South Korean scandal, Californian legislators are debating stricter controls on stem-cell research, including conflict-of-interest rules and protections for egg donors.