Allegations Jeopardize Clone Work

Luci Baines Johnson is escorted after a burial service for her mother, former first lady Lady Bird Johnson Sunday, July 15, 2007 at the Johnson Family Cemetery in Stonewall, Texas. The widow of former President Lyndon B. Johnson died Wednesday of natural causes. She was 94. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip, Pool) AP/Pool

The work of the world's foremost human cloning researcher has been thrown under an ethical cloud, jeopardizing the bold international cloning project that he and several prominent U.S. researchers announced just last month.

The World Stem Cell Hub foundation had announced plans to open cloning centers in San Francisco and London. But U.S. support for the effort is now waning after researcher Hwang Woo-suk was accused of obtaining egg donations from a subordinate and misleading a U.S. collaborator about it.

The scientific dustup is also 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 few ethical guidelines exist governing how donors should be treated.

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

Clinic 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 nonprofit that seeks treatments for childhood brain disorders. Smith declined to give the amount of the grant request but said it exceeded the small nonprofit's usual maximum of $75,000.

University of Pittsburgh cloning researcher Gerald Schatten resigned Saturday from the stem cell hub and ended his 20-month collaboration with Hwang because of the South Korean's "unethical practices" in collecting eggs from a volunteer then misleading Schatten about it.

Schatten released a statement announcing his resignation from the stem cell hub and has declined further comment.

Last year, Hwang's team at Seoul National University became the first to successfully clone a human embryo. Since then, though, rumors have swirled that some of the 242 eggs used in the experiment were donated by subordinate scientists in Hwang's famed cloning lab.

Scientists and ethicists said Monday that collecting eggs from an employee is unethical because of the potential for subordinates to feel coerced.

Hwang has steadfastly denied those accusations and defends his research.

"All research up until now has been conducted in strict observance of the government-set guidelines," Hwang said Monday in Seoul, according to South Korea's Yonhap news agency. He didn't elaborate, saying he would "divulge everything" at an appropriate time.
  • Jessica Goldman

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