This is a follow-up article written on the “Tailored Stem Cells-Too Good to be True”! (http://www.shvoong.com/abstract.aspx?id=147779), while I was monitoring the ongoing controversy over ethics violation by Korean stem cell research pioneer Dr. Woo-Suk Hwang towards the end of last year (’05). The scientific showdown of the two eminent and ambitious scientists and prior collaborators Dr.Woo-Suk Hwang of S. Korea and Dr.Gerald Schatten of Pittsburgh, USA, has led to a very sad situation in the scientific research community worldwide. Fraudulent research has been particularly considered as a disturbing event, because it threatens an enterprise built on trust. Fortunately, these cases are quite rare, but they have a lasting damaging effect.
This is all about the “now infamous” report published in US journal Science in May last year. Hwang said that he had cloned human embryos and extracted stem cell lines tailored to match his patients. By reproducing a human embryo and then tinkering with it to create stem cells with tailor-made biological characteristics, he had apparently come closer than anyone to turning the dream of therapeutic cloning into a reality that could benefit millions of people with severe illnesses.
But, upon the shocking revelation of the fraud in this overly ambitious project, Dr. Hwang publicly apologized (http://www.nature.com/news/2005/051219/pf/051219-3_pf.html) to the scientific community and the Korean government to whom he owed an overwhelmingly large amount of grant money. Dr. Gerry Schatten, the American collaborator on this paper was also under fire for a long period of time due to his involvement in the reports (http://www.phillyburbs.com/pb-dyn/news/103-12242005-588896.html; http://www.bioedonline.org/news/news.cfm?art=2275 ). But, a University of Pittsburgh panel has now declared Gerald Schatten as being innocent (http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/reprint/311/5763/928.pdf ) of research misconduct in the South Korean stem cell debacle. His failure to closely oversee research with his name on it makes him guilty of the research misbehavior according to a summary report released on 3rd Feb.’06. Although Dr. Schatten has been declared as innocent of research misconduct in the South Korean stem cell debacle, his failure to closely oversee research with his name on it makes him guilty of the research behavior according to the summary report released on 3rd Feb.’06. Although, he has received a reprimand from Pittsburgh for scientific misbehaviour but not misconduct, his reputation is tarnished beyond belief. According to the summary report released on 3rd February; Schatten had nothing to do with the authorship of the 2004 paper, which was also subsequently found to be fraudulent. But he devoted a tremendous amount of time and energy to 2005 paper, composing numerous drafts and allowing his name to appear as a senior author, although he did not exercise a sufficiently critical perspective as a scientist the panel relates.
It is a pity that those who suffer from incurable diseases, who were object of this fraud and academic fabrication, makes it an unforgivable offense of worst possible kind. A feeling of anger and a sense of betrayal marked the reaction in the scientific community on the day of Hwang’s announcement of a deliberate fabrication concerning research results on patient-specific stem cells. The politicians, academics and a public that had until recently been staunchly been supportive were united in their disappointment. What was worse was that Hwang’s highly respected American associate and friend, Dr. Schatten who co-authored the discredited papers, severed ties from him, emphasizing that he served only as an adviser and did not perform actual experiments. Although various media reports indicate that acted as a liaison/high profile promoter between Dr. Hwang and American Scientists for getting the paper published in Science.
All of this has gravely overshadowed the research field in general, made other reports suffer(http://today.reuters.com/news/newsArt icle.aspx?type=healthNews&storyID=2006- 04-03T173537Z_01_N03299224_RTRUKOC_0_US-SCIENCE-STEMCELLS.xml&archived=False) and is considered to be a “black eye” in the field; it also fuels those who believe that scientists are very opportunistic and moving too fast in an arena that raises serious questions about public oversight. A lot of people have been wondering about this and have formed an opinion that there should be no such thing as a “courtesy authorship”. While Dr. Hwang’s career is already in shambles, Dr. Schatten’s career is largely dependent on the answers to several questions relating to his role as a senior author of two of Dr. Hwang’s papers, as to; What did he know? When did he know it? What should he have known before collaborating/ publishing? This will also largely determine the future of guidelines/standards in scientific research.
However, there have also been questions about mixing patriotism with science. Dr. Hwang became a superhero too soon, and he had the responsibility of brightening up the future of his country. Thanks to the media for blindly praising the doctor without knowing the ABCs of stem cell research. The media and the Science journal have been held equally responsible for the oversight and publication of the fraudulent data, to be remembered in years to come by the scientific community and people at large.