Marlowe's Shade

Thursday, December 22, 2005

The Hwang Effect

Wesley Smith continues to chronicle the aftershocks of The Great Korean Stem Cell Meltdown at Secondhand Smoke.

Suspicions of Hwang's earlier research will inevitably shake researchers' faith in the prospect of clone based therapies themselves:

"We're back to knowing that animal cloning is possible but wondering whether it is possible in humans," adds Kevin Eggan of Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. "This is an enormous setback.

Also it seems that the Korean scientific community has called for their government to punish him. In a matter of weeks he has gone from posterboy to pariah

This quote from a local biotech firm is interesting:

Robert Lanza, who heads a competing cloning group at Advanced Cell Technology in Worcester, Massachusetts, also queries Hwang's work on cloned pig embryos, published in Molecular Reproduction and Development (vol 72, p 88). In this paper, which has not been retracted, different images showing levels of gene activity seem to be identical. Hwang denies this is a problem. "It is something we will have to look into," says Ralph Gwatkin, the journal's editor-in-chief.

ACT had created a cloned embryo that soon died and never produced stem cells. Oddly, being considered an also-ran to Hwang may turn into a positive for them. But they have had their own issues with objective reporting of their results:

Just days before the release of the human-embryo news, a different phase of ACT's work was being challenged by Rudolf Jaenisch, a biologist and animal cloning pioneer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Whitehead Institute. The issue then was ACT's assertion that 24 surviving cloned cows (of 30) are "clinically ... normal."

"To say they are normal is not correct," Jaenisch told Reuters. "They are normal by the criteria they (ACT researchers) used. These criteria are very superficial." Jaenisch also noted that it took more than 400 implanted embryos to produce the 30 cloned cows.

But ACT's team maintained the company's claim of the cloned cows' normality is correct: "We did not observe genetic defects, immune deficiencies, gross obesity or other drastic abnormalities cited by other researchers," researchers wrote in their report.

And less than a year ago they were lauding Hwang's group as the model for the US to emulate:

South Korea's World Stem Cell Hub could become the leading center for stem cell and therapeutic cloning research, because of the chilling effect U.S. policy has had on stem cell research, according to Dr. Robert Lanza, Vice President for Medical & Scientific Development of Advanced Cell Technology, Inc. (OTCBB: ACTC), and Professor Ronald Green, Director of Dartmouth's Ethics Institute and chair of Advanced Cell Technology's Ethics Advisory Board, writing in the November 24th issue of the scientific journal Nature. "It reflects how far the United States has fallen behind its competitors in this pivotal area and how much the lack of federal leadership has handicapped US efforts," allege Lanza and Green.

I can only hope that this setback for the embryonic stem cell/cloning industry will hasten it's being completely eclipsed by adult stem cell advances.
papijoe 12:20 PM