16 December 2005

The Rise and Fall of Dr HWANG WOO SUK

Doctor who, again? Dr Hwang Woo Suk. If you haven't heard of him, I don't blame you. Chances are, you're not following news about advances in embryonic stem cell technology, or more popularly known as cloning, by most people.

Around May to June this year, Dr Hwang made news when he announced in Science (journal read by nerds like me) that he and his team of researchers at the Seoul National University Stem Cell Research Center were able to clone human embryos and produced eleven (yes, that much!) stem lines like cartilage, both striated and smooth muscles, retina and primitive neuroepithelium, bone, and other important human body tissues. I almost fell down on my seat reading his original paper in June this year when he described that "each NT-hESC line differentiated into all germ layers." Imagine that. ALL germ layers. It was too good to be true.

The medical implications were stupendous! I can almost smell a Nobel Prize for him during that time. I'm not in favor of cloning human beings, but I am in favor of therapeutic cloning, a treatment option in which replacement of pathologic body tissue(s) or organ(s) is possible.

Now, everything has gone haywire.

This morning, most South Korean daily newspapers are screaming with headlines that Dr Hwang submitted a fake research paper. US dailies like the NYTimes , the LATimes, and TIME magazine have also concurring reports. Another sad development is Scientific American's announcement that they are dropping Dr Hwang from "his honored position as Research Leader of the Year." A distinguished U.S. collaborator and co-author of Dr Hwang's controversial paper, Dr Gerald P. Schatten of the University of Pittsburgh, has asked the editors of the journal Science to "take him off the list of authors" of the paper published in May this year. Shame, shame, shame.

Here is a timeline of Dr Hwang's rise and fall.

Where is he now? He is presently hospitalized at the psychiatric ward of Seoul National University Hospital in downtown Seoul. He has been confined there since December 7 when a local TV documentary aired allegations that his research was fake.

Though I feel sorry for the man, I feel sorrier for the thousands of patients given false hope, and who are still sufferring right now.

8 reactions:

rolly said...

It's a good thing that he's found out after a year. Hmm, actually, it makes me think one year may be too long. Isn't there a body of some sorts who would test the authenticity of a claim like this before they're allowed to go public with their assertions/studies? Surely, we don't easilh bite things like these hook, line and sinker everytime.

BongK said...


i wish you the merriest christmas this year, may the good Lord continues to shower you (and soulmate) with lits of love and compassion and more adventures in the coming year.

Dr. Emer said...

Nothing is definite yet, Tito Rolly. An investigation is ongoing. What I termed "his fall" is the way his reputation has been tarnished by all the controversy.

Hello, BongK. Thanks for the greetings. I wish you well, too.

goeman said...

as a scientist, you should always take what's in the scientific literature with a grain of salt. you should know that there are a lot of crap and fraud that exist in the literature. a healthy dose of skepticism is always good.

what's disturbing about this report is that a well known and respected peer reviewed journal should publish the article and it escaped tough scrutiny before publication. but such is science, it's self correcting. of course, every self respecting scientist (in any field) would want to publish in science or nature.

what is more disturbing is that media and the internet (bloggers) jump into reports like this with such gusto as to make it look like gospel truth. the problem is that most of them are not expert on the field and takes what they read as credible without fact checking, simply because it's in science.

i was just listening to npr's sciencefriday (they have podcast, sciencefriday.com) last friday where they featured the article you are referring to and discussed peer review in general. very helpful for starting scientists (like me).

Dr. Emer said...

Good point, Renan. Good luck with your efforts to become a scientist. It is fast becoming an "extreme sport," so prepare yourself for the hardships ahead.

beajerry said...

Whew, what a dramatic story that whole thing is!

Dr. Emer said...

It truly is, Beajerry. It truly is.

algol said...

You may be aware that the Korean drama "My Name is Kim Sam-soon" is showing in the Philippines.

That drama is produced by MBC (Munhwa Broadcasting). MBC was also the first one to blow the whistle on this cloning issue.

I've been watching the drama without dubbing, and in one of the episodes, the lead character says something to the effect "This is a big mess, not even Dr. Hwang Woo-suk could do something about this"

MBC's just so sly hahaha