SEOUL--The disgraced stem cell scientist Woo Suk Hwang is back at work, but not on anything involving human embryonic stem cells.
Hwang, who was fired from Seoul National University's (SNU's) Veterinary College in December 2005, is awaiting trial on fraud and embezzlement charges. He has been barred from human stem cell experiments in Korea for admittedly fabricating data in papers that reported breakthroughs in cloning (ScienceNOW, 12 May).
Hwang's lawyer, Geon Haeng Lee, says that Hwang declined to respond to rumors about his new research efforts in an attempt to maintain a low profile. On 19 August, the Science Ministry officially confirmed that Hwang opened a private laboratory in Guro, southwestern Seoul. According to his colleagues, the cloner and his team of 20-some scientists moved into their new laboratory in late July and are "just getting started." The research team includes 15 graduate students in addition to four research assistants who used to work with Hwang. SNU professor Byung Cheon Lee, who worked to clone the dog Snuppy, and now-dismissed SNU professor Sung Keun Kang are not involved.
The laboratory is part of a newly established foundation named the Suam Bioengineering Research Institute. It is funded by the Suam Scholarship Foundation, which supports schools and private scholars with research funds. The foundation's initial $2.6 million investment in the institute comes from private donations, according to Hwang's lawyers. The foundation is co-founded by Hwang and Byung Soo Park, who shares Hwang's hometown of Buyeo and graduated from the same high school and college.
The foundation received approval from the Korean government on July 14. The institute's mission statement, presented to the Science Ministry, says Hwang and his team will study animal cloning, animal stem cells, research on production of animal organs, and biological textile products. The list does not include human stem cell research.