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Taken from www.rbmonline.com - February 2006

Cloning and Cheating

Reports on cheating about human cloning by Dr Hwang’s team in Seoul have jeopardized the highest standards of science. His papers in Science in 2004 and 2005 were universally regarded as major scientific advances. Last autumn, criticisms amplified as Gerry Schatten quit the team amid charges that Hwang had collected oocytes for research from members of his clinical staff. The situation became even unreal with revelations that Science had been cheated in their 2005 paper, and that Dr Hwang apparently wished to withdraw irrelevant illustrations and false claims. A paper from JK Min (2005) now claims that the Korean National Board of Bioethics Committee discovered he had used 1656 human oocytes from 100 women for his research, and not the 427 reported in his two Science papers. Moreover, the women received insufficient information on his research and were not asked to sign the correct form of agreement. Many donors suffered after-effects, two being hospitalized. Presumably, Hwang’s colleague Dr Sung Il Roh, and his co-authors on the Science paper share this disgrace.

Yet, even now, Press reports suggest Dr Hwang believes he will be vindicated even though Min (2005) claims that not a single patient-specific embryonic stem cell line was ever produced in Korea. While accepting a man is innocent until proved guilty, there can be little doubt that some if not all of the charges are correct. Why did Hwang cheat and lie? Was he searching for fame at any cost? Did his colleagues mislead him? Did a breakdown of sorts increase the tempo of his attempts to achieve cloning to cover the inaccuracies of his claims? Is his first paper on cloning, also published in Science in 2004, free of cheating? He must have feared his high scientific standing was under threat as his claims were disproved and his situation was clearly worsening when three similar papers on human cloning, published in Reproductive BioMedicine Online between 2002 and 2004, were totally contradictory to his own, reporting the early demise of cloned human eggs (Zavos, 2003; Lavoir et al., 2005; Stojkovik et al., 2005). These papers were overshadowed by Hwang’s claims, yet they remain accurate and indicate that human cloning seems a long way off. He must be passing through a bloodbath as those searching for more headlines replace adoring reporters. Intense Press interest can invoke immense psychological pressures, and criticism from colleagues makes this situation even worse.

Sadly, cheating is not uncommon in publishing science. Previous scientists and clinicians have cheated on various aspects of IVF. Wide disbelief and bewilderment accompanied a report some 20 years ago when a US IVF doctor injected HCG into his IVF patients before he took their blood samples, enabling him to falsely claim they were pregnant. Even worse, he used his own spermatozoa for sperm donation, to produce many contentious births while claiming the sperm samples came from anonymous donors. He ended up in jail and in disgrace. Where will the cloning furore end? Critics of various aspects of assisted human conception may have a field day. People and authorities in doubt about permitting cloning may decide it is a step too far. Sheer disgust among his professional colleagues has spread to the University authorities that may yet dismiss him. My colleague Giuseppe Benagiano writes that ‘Cheating in science is a greater abomination than cheating in business or politics. It is lying by people dedicated to the search for truth’. How very true.

RG Edwards

Chief Editor

References

Hwang WS, Ryu YJ, Park JH et al. 2004 Evidence of a pluripotent human embryonic stem cell line derived from a cloned blastocyst. Science 302, 1669–1674.

Hwang WS, Roh SI, Lee BC et al. 2005 Patient-specific embryonic stem cells derived from human SCNT blastocysts. Science 308, 1777–1783.

Lavoir M-C, Weier J, Canaghan J, Pedersen R 2005 Poor development of human nuclear transfer embryos using failed fertilized oocytes. Reproductive BioMedicine Online 11, 740–744.

Min JK 2005 Stem cell researcher used more eggs than reported. Ohmy News International Korea, http://english.ohmynews.com/articleview/article_view.asp?menu=c10400&no=266656&rel_no=1 [accessed 6 January 2005].

Stojkovic M, Stojkovic P, Leary C et al. 2005 Derivation of a human blastocyst after heterologous nuclear transfer to donated oocytes. Reproductive BioMedicine Online 11, 226–231.

Zavos P 2003 Human reproductive cloning: the time is near. Reproductive BioMedicine Online 6, 397–398.


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