It has emerged that Woo Suk Hwang, the South Korean scientist who was named and shamed for faking his research, made an amazing breakthrough. According to Cell Stem Cell, he may have managed to create stem cells solely from human eggs, without fertilization with sperm. This breakthrough is possibly much more valuable than his original false claims about his work.

Hwang’s work at Seoul National University was famous worldwide – he became a national hero and possibly the most esteemed stem cell scientist in the world. In 2005, his status came crumbling down when it was revealed he had faked much of his claims. He had said that he and his team created cloned human embryos by putting a cell’s nucleus into an empty human egg, and then used the stem cells for those embryos. It was later found that the embryos had originated from the eggs of female members of his laboratory team – in other words, not from cloned embryos. He was fired and then charged with fraud and misappropriation of funds (embezzlement).

Recently, researchers from Harvard Stem Cell Institute, led by Dr George Daley, examined his research again and determined that the cells came from a another type of embryo. The scientists say it is well possible that Hwang and team had managed to pull off the world’s first human case of parthenogenesis, or ‘virgin birth’.

(Parthenogenesis = When an egg is stimulated into becoming an embryo without sperm fertilization taking place.)

Parthenogenesis has been done with animals, but never with humans where the embryo survived long enough to get viable stem cells from it.

Dr George Daley told the BBC “Unfortunately at the time they published their work they did not know what they had done so they had mistakenly isolated these parthenogenic embryonic stem cells, and yet misrepresented them as true clones. In fact they had produced the world’s first patient-specific embryonic stem cell, and that is very valuable. Scientists interested in modelling complex diseases would like to be able to move a patient’s own cells into a petri dish in their embryonic form.”

Discredited Korean embryonic stem cells’ true origins revealed
Harvard News Office
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Written by: Christian Nordqvist