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Stem Cell Scandal: A Case Study

By: Ian Murnaghan BSc (hons), MSc - Updated: 26 Jan 2017 | comments*Discuss
Stem Cells Research Hwang Fraud Story

While the majority of researchers who study stem cells do so ethically and honestly, there are unfortunate cases of fraud in the industry. Such has been the case for a South Korean scientist named Hwang who claimed enormous breakthroughs in stem cell research. The reality, however, is that his claims were false and it was not until last year that he was convicted.

First Cloned Embryos

The case began years ago in 2004 when Hwang and other researchers at Seoul National University had a paper published in a prominent science journal. They stated that they had made the first cloned human embryo and had been able to remove stem cells from the embryo. As expected, their claims generated a great deal of excitement and interest.

In the following year, Hwang and his team of researchers also cited in the journal that they had made human embryonic stem cells that were a perfect genetic match to individual patients. For many people, this was exciting news because it meant that the patient would not experience immunological rejection of the stem cells.

The Investigation Begins

What happened next was that a number of questions about Hwang's claims were raised. At that time, an investigation began to confirm the authenticity of Hwang's findings. The result of the investigation was that the committee found Hwang and his team had provided false data. The journal that had published both of the papers ultimately retracted them after the committee made its conclusions on the investigation.

Charges of Fraud and Illegal Egg Purchasing

The government in South Korea told Hwang that he could not perform any stem cell research again. Soon after, he was formally charged with fraud for having taken millions in private donations for research. He faced a number of other accusations as well, including the purchase of human eggs for research, which violates the laws in South Korea.

Faked Data in Stem Cell Research

Although Hwang did finally admit that the data was false and he had faked it, he also claimed that another scientist had 'fooled' him in the process. After a trial lasting approximately three years, the verdict was that the primary fraud charge against Hwang was removed. The judge cited that it was not believable that Hwang would have tried to trick a donor simply for funding and with no intention to use it for research purposes.

A Remorseful Researcher

Hwang was, however, convicted of embezzlement with regards to research funding and he was also convicted of the illegal purchase of human eggs. Although prosecutors wanted him to receive a prison sentence, Hwang's remorse for the incident meant that the judge gave him a suspended sentence instead.

Ethical and Responsible Researchers

Although he will not be spending any time in prison, his story is hopefully a lesson to those who try to make false claims and embezzle money for faulty research. Fortunately, the vast majority of scientists in the field of stem cell research are ones who care about what they do and their work is performed admirably.

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[Add a Comment]
@Ela - I would be very careful signing up to this!
Yann - 6-Sep-16 @ 11:56 AM
Hello should I go ahead with stem cell treatment for MN D in a clinic in Moscow?
Ela - 5-Sep-16 @ 4:41 PM
@utsc - Although PRP now has sufficient theoretical scientific basis to support its use in hair restoration - it is still in its infancy and clinical evidence regarding side-effects remains weak. There's lots of material about it on the internet though, weighing up the pros and cons, which should help you make a decision.
DRD - 28-Sep-15 @ 9:58 AM
I am considering "Stem Cell Transplant" and PLATELET RICH PLASMA for male pattern hair loss. Is anyone aware of any possible risk of Stem Cell Transplant for hair loss. Any other feedback would be greatly appreciated. Thank you in advance for your time and advice
utsc - 26-Sep-15 @ 5:27 AM
I have been contemplating whether to have a stem cell treatment for my 15 year old Autistic daughter. I have been in touch with one company in Switzerland,they are telling me the treatment will be best at their Moscow clinic which would also be cheaper. I want to know has anyone had this treatment done if so what are the success rate and the side affects etc.
Tony - 21-Jul-15 @ 10:24 PM
I would like to encourage you to go for immediate treatment of the wet AMD so that it would stop the progression first and later then you can consider the stem cell therapy. The ophthalmologists will give you an anti-VEGF injection intravitreal to 'dry' up the AMD which will help you regain most of your vision. Stem cell therapy for this requires it to implant the progenitor RPE differentiated cells into the retinal layer. Speak to your ophthalmologist for University hospitals that carry out stem cell research in Australia.
Dr.MIke - 24-Feb-14 @ 10:31 PM
I am 62 years and have been diagnosed with (wet) AMD.Is there a possibility of using stem cell treatment for AMD. If treatment and facilities are availabe in Brisbane, Australia, where/who specifically can I go to?
Gunny - 19-Aug-11 @ 1:03 AM
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