Korean scandal boosts UK's stem-cell hopes

January 13, 2006

As South Korea reeled from proof that renowned stem-cell scientist Hwang Woo-Suk faked his major scientific claims, British scientists said that the UK could now lead the world on stem cells.

A panel from Mr Hwang's university, Seoul National, said this week that his claim in 2004 to have cloned stem cells from human embryos was untrue.

Last month a report by the university said that Mr Hwang's claim to have developed 11 patient-specific stem-cell lines, made in the journal Science in 2005, was false.

The fraud has been seen as a major blow by scientists. But this week leading experts admitted that it could have a positive impact for the UK, pushing universities including Newcastle and Cambridge to the fore.

Michael Whitaker, chair of the Newcastle-Durham stem-cell initiative, said:

"This certainly puts us back in the race. Our emphasis when we published last year was it would be very difficult, but Professor Hwang's paper appeared to say it was really very easy.

"We had diverted resources away from this area because we felt we couldn't compete. We can now put it back in," he said.

Anne Bishop, a lung researcher working with embryonic stem cells at Imperial College London, said: "In the race to achieve cloning, this is definitely beneficial for the UK as only Hwang and Newcastle had published on this. Newcastle leaps into the lead now."

But she stressed that most researchers were not interested in cloning, and that the UK's strengths in stem-cell research were much broader.

Next week: Korea-based Nobel laureate Bob Laughlin on the system that guarantees more scandals in the future

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