At a press conference this morning, South Korean scientist Woo Suk Hwang apologized for publishing fabricated stem cell data in two Science papers in 2004 and 2005 but maintained that he was deceived by junior researchers and the victim of a conspiracy, according to Korean news reports.
Investigators at Seoul National University (SNU) reported yesterday that both papers were fraudulent. Hwang said at the press conference that he had cloned human embryos, and that collaborators at MizMedi Hospital falsely claimed to have created stem cell lines from them. Instead, the SNU investigators found, the cell lines came from embryos created through in vitro fertilization. The distinction is important because it's hoped that stem cells from cloned embryos can genetically match patients, a crucial step toward using the cells in medicine. SNU announced last month and earlier this week that it could find no evidence that Hwang produced stem cell lines from cloned embryos (ScienceNOW, 10 January).
During his hour-long televised press conference, where he was surrounded by roughly 20 current and former students, according to press reports, Hwang also asserted that with enough eggs, he has the technology to create stem cell lines matched to patients. "I take full responsibility for the papers carried in the journal Science and ask for your forgiveness," said Hwang, according to The Korea Times. But, he added, referring to two researchers working at MizMedi at the time much of the work was carried out, "if the stem cells are hoaxes, it means they duped us."
In its final report on Hwang's work, SNU investigators noted that "since Hwang's team made no patient specific stem cells, they cannot claim to be in possession of the original technique required."
Hwang's home was also raided by Korean investigators today, who are considering criminal charges against him, according to Korean news sources. Investigators carted off computers and files.