"NEW YORK (AP) -- Remember the spectacular South Korean stem cell fraud of a few years ago? A new analysis says the disgraced scientist actually did reach a long-sought scientific goal. It's just not the one he claimed.Interesting. This is something that the conventional wisdom said was not possible.
The new study suggests Hwang Woo-suk and his team produced stem cells -- not through cloning as they contended -- but through a different process called parthenogenesis.
That, too, is an achievement scientists have long been pursuing.
In 2004, when Hwang and his colleagues at Seoul National University announced they had produced a human embryo through cloning and that they had recovered stem cells from it, the news made headlines around the world.
Two years later their research and a later paper were declared frauds by a committee of his university. The stem cells weren't produced by cloning, the committee said, but it was highly likely that they came about through a much different process called parthenogenesis."
This article tended to take a more generous tone with Dr. Hwang and his colleagues than has been taken before, acknowledging that they may have simply flubbed a highly complex procedure along their way to claiming success in cloning. It is perhaps worthy of note that they acknowledged in their paper that one possible explanation for their results could have been parthenogenesis, and they could not completely rule it out.
So what does all this mean? It points to a way forward that reduces the considerable ethical problems in creating and harvesting embryos solely for the purpose of creating stem cells. We'll have to see if this proves an efficient way to obtain stem cells.
Hopefully people on both sides of this issue can approach alternative ways of obtaining stem cells with open minds. Unfortunately ideology has tended to trump science in the past, with some stem cell scientists claiming that only embryonic stem cells are useful, and some on the other side unwilling to allow any research whatsoever on stem cells for fear of destroying developing embryos.
Perhaps Dr. Hwang can rehabilitate his reputation by re-analyzing his data and seeing if perhaps there is something to be salvaged. Obviously some researchers think that is the case, and I hope they pursue this line of inquiry.