Shamed embryo ‘expert’ accused of scientific and financial fraud

A South Korean scientist who faked the production of a human embryo from cloned material is facing four years in jail over the incident.

Hwang Woo-Suk has been charged with embezzlement and with accepting funds under false pretences. That relates to the US $2.25 million he received from public funds to carry out the studies. He’s also charged with illegally buying human eggs.

Prosecutors say that as well as lying about the success of his work, Hwang diverted some of the public funding into bogus bank accounts opened in the names of friends.

The ensuing court case has taken three years so far, mainly because of the sheer complexity of the evidence from experts over whether Hwang’s scientific claims were genuine. The prosecution finished its case today and called for a four year jail term, saying his actions not only damaged the country’s scientific community, but brought international shame on South Korea. Hwang’s defense begins next month with a verdict expected by the end of the year.

Hwang claimed in 2004 that he had used cloning to make a human embryo and then recovered stem cells from it. A year later he said he’d been able to refine the process to make stem cells which genetically matched a patient; if true that could have made it possible to prevent the human body’s immune system from rejecting stem cell transplants.

A committee at Hwang’s employer, the Seoul National University, later concluded the latter claim was fake, while the former claim was dubious. Hwang was then barred from carrying out future research on human embryos. However, it has been independently confirmed that he carried out the work which produced the first cloned dog.

[Picture source: Flickr (CC)]