Seoul (AsiaNews/Agenzie) Disgraced South Korean cloning pioneer Hwang Woo-suk has opened a new research lab despite the fact that his licence to conduct research on human embryos was revoked and that he is currently on trial for fraud, officials at the Science and Technology Ministry said yesterday.
Hwang and a medical company last month jointly set up a foundation called the Suam Biotechnology Institute Foundation with initial capital of US$ 2.6 million focusing on cross-species organ transplants.
The South Korean government said that it approved the lab's application last month, without realising Hwang would be working there.
"We gave approval without knowing it would be Dr Hwang Woo-suk's lab since it wasn't mentioned in the application. But the lab can make its own decisions on how to operate, including hiring personnel," a ministry official said.
Hwang fell out of favour after it was revealed that his claims to have created the world's first stem cells from cloned human embryos were false and that results were fabricated. This led to him being fired from Seoul National University. Until then he was considered one of the foremost scientist his field.
The results of his research were published in 2004 and 2005 in two issues of the major US scientific journal Science in which the researcher claimed he had created stem cell lines with the cloning of human embryos. However, the publication eventually had to withdraw both articles after the Seoul National University (SNU) revealed that Dr Hwang's studies were faked and the stem cells had not been created genetically but had come from donor eggs.
Hwang is currently facing trial for the misappropriation of state and private funds worth an estimated 2.8 billion won (around 2.5 million euros or US$ 3.2 million) and for buying the eggs needed for his experiments, a practice forbidden by the country's bioethics law. In the wake of the scandal he lost his licence to conduct this type of research.
Hwang's lawyer Lee Geon-haeng said on Thursday that the trained veterinarian would be resuming work at a new lab, but would not be conducting research on human embryonic stem cells since the scientist has no intention of breaking the ban.