Stem Cell - Archive

Winter 2005: Stem Cell & Cloning Research (Update!)

Research of South Korean Embryo-Destructive Stem Cell Scientist Declared “Intentionally Fabricated”

Embryonic Stem Cell Lines Prior to 8/01 Could Develop Cancer

Sex-Selection by Embryo Screening Approved for US Trial

Long-Term Results in Adult Stem Cells Very Positive

Adult Stem Cells Derived from Heart Cells Can Repair Heart Damage

The research of Korean embryonic stem-cell scientist Hwang Woo-suk has been declared “intentionally fabricated” by a panel of scientists at Seoul National University. “Based on these findings, data in the 2005 Science journal cannot be regarded as a simple accidental error but as intentional fabrication made out of two stem cells,” the investigators reported. “This is a serious wrongdoing that has damaged the foundation of science.” The once national hero said, “I sincerely apologise to the people for creating shock and disappointment,” after the announcement [BBC; SEOUL, 23Dec05,]. Hwang has resigned:  “As a symbol of apology, I step down as professor of Seoul National University.” Despite admissions from Hwang’s colleagues that the embryonic stem cell research was faked and the SNU probe confirmed it, Hwang was still defiant 23Dec saying that he did produce patient-specific cells [, 24Dec05]. [prof, veterinary medicine] Dr. Hwang Woo Suk’s unregulated attempts to clone a human being were hit with ethics charges from an American scientist [Dr. Schatten Univ Pittsburgh] who quit Hwang’s team, following disclosure of possible coercion in obtaining eggs for money from young female researchers. Apparently, some of the photos of cell colonies supposedly derived from 11 patients were duplicates. [FRC, 6Dec05] Dr. Schatten demanded that his name be removed from an article he co-wrote with Hwang for the journal Science. The photographs in the article are probably duplicates of one another. Hwang’s associate, Dr. Roh Sung-il, said that Hwang pressured scientists in the lab at Mizmedi Hospital to fake project data. Corruption is an inextricable part of this misguided scheme. [FRC, 15Dec05] South Korean Univ began its investigation into the fraudulent embryonic stem cell research conducted by Hwang and his team. Hwang’s team [5/05 Science medical journal] argued it had overcome a significant hurdle for embryonic stem cells by cloning patient-specific cells. Chairman Chung Myung-hee acknowledged there were “fatal errors” in the research paper — more than duplicated photographs of the same stem cells. Though a top associate of Hwang’s contended all but 2 of the 11 embryonic stem cell lines were fabricated and the authenticity of the remaining lines were unknown, Hwang defended the research and claimed he could prove some of it was true. SNU officials released a statement saying they were also questioning Hwang’s colleagues and reviewing their work. Some 20 researchers have been questioned already. The panel planned to begin preliminary investigations now and an in-depth probe later, but it decided to conduct both investigations at the same time. “We decided that preliminary investigations are unnecessary, because Hwang and Administrator Roh Sung-il of MizMedi Hospital have made different statements, and Hwang already admitted manipulating the paper,” one official said [Donga newspaper South Korea]. The committee will look into the problems associated with the duplicated photos and DNA published in the Science paper as well as looking at the actual research results. The committee will conduct tests on five embryonic stem cell lines to determine if Hwang’s claims are true. [, 19Dec05; Seoul, South Korea] On 23Dec05, the Genetics Policy Institute, an advocacy group fighting for more taxpayer funding for embryo-destructive stem cell research, withdrew its 2005 Global Achievement Award given to Hwang at its annual dinner [Houston, 5/05]. Siegel [exec dir GPI]: “The Global Achievement Award was intended for an individual who has made a monumental worldwide contribution to the field of stem cells and regenerative medicine…The basis for recognizing Dr. Hwang was his reported landmark achievement in the creation of patient-matched stem cell lines. However, the results of an investigation by Seoul National University have shown that Hwang’s results were largely fabricated,” Siegel explained [, 24Dec05]. Observers are now questioning whether Hwang’s claims to have cloned an Afghan hound it named Snuppy in 8/05 are false too. Professor Trounson [stem cell researcher, Australia’s Monash Univ] says the Snuppy claims are “very much in doubt now.” “I think a lot of the community were very impressed with the cloning of a dog — and it was a delightful dog — but I actually don’t think it is a cloned dog now,” Trounson said. The journal Nature, which published the report about Snuppy, is reviewing the paper to see if the results are authentic. [Comment: Note this great quote from Richard Doerflinger: “It’s all very well to say one scandal shouldn’t set back the field, but Hwang’s team was the field,” said Richard Doerflinger [Dir, USCCB, e-mail]. “If his results are false, then after 7 years of attempts worldwide no one has succeeded in getting even the first step in ‘therapeutic cloning’ to work on a practical scale. At what point do legislators stop throwing away good money after bad?” While the major media insists on portraying the embryo-destructive stem cell opposition as “just religious belief”, the reality is that using embryos is probably a very expensive dead end. (N. Valko, RN)][
Stem Cell Fraud Worries U.S. Scientists] [, 24Dec05]



EMBRYONIC STEM CELL LINES made before Aug 2001 (those eligible for federal funding) have been compared with more recently obtained embryonic stem cells in a report [Nature Genetics, Dr. Chakravarti, Johns Hopkins Univ].

Of 9 cell lines, 8 had developed one or more “genetic changes commonly observed in human cancers”. “In an understatement the report states, ‘This is not good news. It suggests that the biological properties of the cells before and after replicating could be different.’ Translated, this means that such embryonic stem cells transplanted into a patient might cause more problems”, such as cancer. [Rt to Life GC, Nov/Dec05]


CALIFORNIA STEM CELL RESEARCH LAWSUITS WILL PROCEED. Alameda County Superior Court Judge Bonnie Sabraw on 29Nov denied essentially every legal argument brought by the plaintiffs of 2 lawsuits in litigation alleging that Prop. 71 violated the state Constitution because it would allow taxpayer-backed bond revenues to be distributed without direct legislative control.

Proposition 71 will spend $6 billion on embryonic stem cell research. The decision makes it likely that any significant grants from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine to scientists for the life-destroying research will be blocked well into 2006. But in a victory for the stem cell committee, Sabraw also denied motions by the pro-life and taxpayer groups who sued to immediately declare the proposition unconstitutional.

Sabraw ordered both sides back to court to set a trial date and added that she planned to “proceed to trial promptly.” But, according to a San Jose Mercury News article, both sides said a trial probably would not take place until the Spring and appeals will likely follow the decision in the case. Dana Cody, a pro-life attorney who filed one of the suits on behalf of the People’s Advocates and the National Tax Limitation Foundation saying the proposition runs afoul of conflict of interest laws, said she was also pleased with the judge’s decision. “I’m not disappointed at all” she told th
News because a trial would let her side get out all of the information about the problems associated with the measure and insufficient state oversight of the committee. [1Dec05,]

EMBRYONIC STEM CELL STUDIES RAISE QUESTIONS, NOT CURES. Two embryonic stem cell studies in mice are receiving wide media attention today, because embryonic-like stem cells have been derived reportedly without killing embryos.

In one study, a single cell was removed from an eight-cell mouse embryo. That one cell was developed into embryonic-like stem cells, while the remaining embryo was implanted and developed to term. However, it is not clear what effect this would have on children who are born after having had one of their cells removed while still an early embryo.

The other study involved the cloning technique used to create Dolly the sheep, in which the nucleus of a body cell is removed and inserted into an egg whose nucleus has been removed.

In this study, scientists turned off a gene in the body cell nucleus that is necessary for normal embryonic development before it was inserted into the egg. The resulting clone-like entity did produce embryonic-like stem cells.

However, it is unclear whether such an entity should be considered not an embryo, or simply an embryo altered for self- destruction. More animal research is warranted to answer questions raised by these studies. In the meantime, we should continue to support the kind of stem cell research that has already shown great promise, using adult stem cells from umbilical cord blood and other sources. [FRC, 17Oct05]

FETAL FARMING   Sounding like a science fiction nightmare, evidence indicates that the biotech industry is determined to grow humans for body parts. One analyst explained: “Basically, it’s an idea that you’re taking either the early human embryo or a fetus, and using it for some sort of spare parts.”

The National Right to Life Committee is warning that Congress could pave the way for this gruesome industry through “clone-and-kill” legislation. Douglas Johnson, legislative director of National Right to Life warned: “Elements of the biotech industry are definitely moving towards ‘fetus farming’ and Congress must act to prevent that before it’s too late.”

Unfortunately, some pro-life experts believe legislators are unaware of what is on the horizon and even if they are aware, they tend to think such things could never happen, but it already has in New Jersey. To preclude the use of human clones for body parts, Congress should immediately pass a total ban on human cloning.

Robert P. George wrote: “Either we will protect embryonic human life more fully than we do now, or we will begin creating human beings precisely as “organ factories.” Those of us on the pro-life side must take the measure of the problem quickly so that we can develop and begin implementing a strategy that takes the nation in the honorable direction.”  [, Alabama Citizens Watch Weekly Radio Spots 10/11/05, 20Oct05]

SEX-SELECTION BY EMBRYO SCREENING APPROVED FOR US TRIAL. An experiment has been underway for a month in Houston TX where parents are permitted to ask scientists for a child with the gender of their choice. 

The procedure involves preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) which is able to detect the sex of embryos created by in vitro fertilization (IVF) prior to their implantation in their mothers’ wombs.

While sex selection via PGD has been allowed in some cases where sex-linked diseases are concerned, the clinical trial is seeking to gage the impact of sex selection at the whim of the parents.  According to the journal Nature, the researchers, led by Sandra Carlson of Baylor College of Medicine, will be studying the long term health effect to the children born after PGD and also the social impact on the families. [27Oct05]

LONG-TERM RESULTS IN ADULT STEM CELLS. Researchers [Fred Hutchinson Research Cancer Ctr, publ. in Journal of Clinical Oncology] followed 136 patients after treatment with adult stem cells. “They state that these patients 10 years later were ‘largely indistinguishable from the general population in many areas of health and psychosocial functioning’.” [Rt to Life GC, Nov/Dec05]

ADULT STEM CELLS DERIVED FROM HEART CELLS CAN REPAIR HEART DAMAGE. Stem cells derived from human heart tissue develop into multicellular, spherical structures called cardiospheres that express the normal properties of primitive heart tissue, smooth muscle and blood vessel cells [study by Johns Hopkins researchers].

In a related study, cells grown in the lab from these cardiospheres and injected into the hearts of mice following a lab-induced heart attack migrated straight to damaged tissue and regenerated, improving the organ’s ability to pump blood throughout the animal’s body.

Results from both studies were presented Nov. 14 at the American Heart Association’s annual Scientific Sessions in Dallas. “The findings could potentially offer patients use of their own stem cells to repair heart tissue soon after a heart attack, or to regenerate weakened muscle resulting from heart failure, perhaps averting the need for heart transplants,” says Eduardo Marbán, M.D., Ph.D. [senior author of both studies, prof & chief of cardiology, The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, JHU Heart Inst].

“By using a patient’s own adult stem cells rather than a donor’s, there would be no risk of triggering an immune response that could cause rejection.”  

Researchers in the US are curing diabetic mice with adult stem cells.  These researchers aren’t getting much attention (or funding) yet for human trials.  [, Baltimore, MD; AAPLOG, J. DeCook, MD, 24Nov05]