- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 15, 2005

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The work of the world’s foremost human cloning researcher, Hwang Woo-suk, has been thrown under an ethical cloud, jeopardizing the international cloning project that he and several prominent U.S. researchers announced last month.

Mr. Hwang has been accused of obtaining egg donations from a subordinate, which scientists say is unethical because of the potential for subordinates to feel coerced, and misleading a U.S. collaborator about it.

Mr. Hwang, whose team at Seoul National University became the first to successfully clone a human embryo last year, yesterday denied the accusations, but U.S. support appears to be waning for the World Stem Cell Hub’s plan to open cloning centers in San Francisco and London.

The dustup also is renewing debate over the thorny issue of how scientists plan to collect women’s eggs vital to their controversial work. Thousands of eggs are necessary to complete cloning projects, and there are few ethical guidelines to govern how donors should be treated.

The San Francisco-based Pacific Fertility Center, which had said it would help the stem-cell hub collect eggs beginning in January, said yesterday that it has severed all ties with Mr. Hwang and dropped all involvement with cloning research.

Center spokesman Scott Kaplan declined further comment.

Meanwhile, the nonprofit Children’s Neurobiological Solutions Foundation said it was putting on hold a grant application from the Korean-led stem-cell hub.

“These are very serious claims being made,” said Shane Smith, science director of the Santa Barbara, Calif., nonprofit that seeks treatments for childhood brain disorders. The official declined to give the amount of the grant request but said it exceeded the small nonprofit’s usual maximum of $75,000.

Stem-cell scientists hope to clone embryos to extract stem cells to watch how diseases develop and to create drugs.

Gerald Schatten, a cloning researcher at University of Pittsburgh, said Saturday that he had resigned from the stem-cell hub and ended his 20-month-old collaboration with Mr. Hwang. Mr. Schatten accused Mr. Hwang of “unethical practices” in collecting eggs from a volunteer and then misleading Mr. Schatten about it.

Since Mr. Hwang’s team cloned a human embryo last year, rumors have swirled that some of the 242 eggs used in the experiment were donated by subordinate scientists in his famed cloning lab.

Mr. Hwang has steadfastly denied the accusations.

“All research up until now has been conducted in strict observance of the government-set guidelines,” Mr. Hwang said, according to South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency. He didn’t elaborate, saying he would “divulge everything” at an appropriate time.

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