It’s not often that scientists achieve rock star status, but that’s what Hwang enjoyed when, seemingly out of nowhere, the Seoul National University professor of veterinary medicine catapulted South Korea to the top of the science hierarchy with his 2004 success in cloning human cells and making human embryonic stem cells.
Or at least that’s what he and everyone else in the world thought he had done. It was the first time anyone had taken a human cell, inserted it into a donor egg, and coaxed it to grow, in theory into a clone of the original cell. He followed that stunning announcement a year later with another first — using the same process to generate embryonic stem cells from patients with spinal cord injury and diabetes, opening the possibility that patients might benefit from stem cell therapies to cure these and other diseases.
That same year, however, anonymous tips raised questions about images depicting the stem cell lines in one of the papers, and a university and government investigation revealed that the stem cells did not come from the cells as Hwang claimed, but from IVF embryos. Hwang said was not aware of the fraud, which he maintained was perpetrated by members of his lab, but was stripped of his position at the university and banned from conducting stem cell research in Korea. He is reportedly seeking investors to fund his research outside of the country.
Next Dr. Roger Poisson