Dr. Andy

Reflections on medicine and biology among other things

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Korean stem cells ad naseum

Dr. Hwang Woo-suk, who has been under sustained fire for apparently faking his results, is not giving up:
Admitting that his team made "human errors," cloning researcher Woo Suk Hwang has asked Science to retract his celebrated paper reporting the creation of patient specific embryonic stem (ES) cells. But in another twist in an increasingly complicated story, the researcher today rebuffed the claims of a colleague who said yesterday that Hwang had admitted falsifying data. At a packed press conference 16 December at Seoul National University, a defiant Hwang said that he and his colleagues did succeed in creating such cells, and he intends to replicate his results.
It turns out "at least" 6 of the cell lines no longer exist, having been killed off after developing contamination with fungi. While this seems like an awfully convenient excues, it is difficult to prevent contamination of mammalian cells in culture with faster growing fungi and bacteria, so this is not an unreasonable explanation. Hwang claims they are working to unthaw frozen sameples of the other 5 lines to demonstrate they are legitimate. No mention is made of sending samples to outside labs, which would be the gold standard as confirmatory data coming from Hwang's own lab would be suspect.

I would say there is a <5% chance this work is legit. I suspect there will be problems with the other cell lines and/or Hwang's group will claim the lines are as advertised but refuse to release them to outsiders to verify their results. I say this based partially on the fact that the 6 (or more) lines that are no more had apparently been lost by the time of submission. Given that no one had ever made even a single line from a specified donor, reporting they had 5 good lines would not have been any less impressive than reporting 11. Time will tell.


At 2:30 PM, Blogger pluripotentate said...

they have a legitimate reason to be careful which labs get their cells. if they really have clones but send their samples to an inept lab, a mix-up or mistake at the confirming lab reported too quickly to the media could be the final nail in hwang's coffin.

but they should send samples out to at least one trustworthy, completely independent lab. whatever lab tests them will make a name for itself in a hurry, but it will also mix itself up in the sh**storm.


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