Dr. Andy

Reflections on medicine and biology among other things

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Korean stem cells

More problems for Dr. Hwang Woo-suk and his claims of having created multiple human stem cell lines, including from individuals with a variety of diseases:
University of Pittsburgh researcher Gerald Schatten has demanded that the journal Science remove him as the senior author of a report it published in June to international acclaim that detailed how individual stem cell colonies were created for 11 patients through cloning.

"My careful re-evaluations of published figures and tables, along with new problematic information, now casts substantial doubts about the paper's accuracy," Schatten wrote in a letter to Science released late Tuesday by the university. "Over the weekend, I received allegations from someone involved with the experiments that certain elements of the report may be fabricated."
It is never a good sign when your collaborators start acting like rats abandoning a sinking ship. At this point I'd have no faith in anything Hwang has published, it's probably all faked.

You'd think Schatten would have "carefully" evaluated the figures and tables before he agreed to be senior author. But by bailing now, he'll probably save his own career given there is no evidence (and no reason to believe) he knew about the fabrication. Given that if it were accurate, being senior author on the paper might merit the Nobel prize, you can be sure Schatten wouldn't be bailing if he wasn't sure the data were faked and/or wrong.

To review, in an apparent landmark paper in Science this June Hwang (and Schatten) claimed to have created embryonic stem cell lines from 11 patients with a variety of diseases. Then he "resigned" based on reports that, contrary to his claims, several subordinates had served as egg donors and other donors had been paid. At the time, I suspected something else was afoot (it is always about you isn't it? - ed).

Now, it is clear that some of the photos published as part of the Science paper were copies of one another, even though they were represented as being from separate patients. Hwang pleaded a clerical error, but now apparently a member of Hwang's group have alleged fraud in generating the figures; that is, the photos were intentionally misrepresented, not duplicated due to a simple error.

In general, scientists are very cautious, particularly with this kind of grountd-breaking research. I can't imagine that photos were inadvertently duplicated and no one in Hwang's group noticed. It just doesn't add up.


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