11/24/2005, 00.00
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Scandal-ridden "pioneer" of human cloning steps down

Prof. Hwang confessed to having made use of ova extracted from "unwilling" donors. "Resigning is my way of showing repentance for what happened."

Seoul (AsiaNews) – Prof. Hwang Woo Suk, widely regarded as a "pioneer" of therapeutic cloning, this morning announced his "irrevocable" resignation from the post of director of the world's first stem cell hub. The researcher said he was also resigning from "all his other responsibilities held in government and private organizations".

Hwang's resignation follows accusations levelled against him by a former colleague from Pittsburgh University, the American Professor, Gerald Shatten, who claimed the doctor had "knowingly" used ova "donated under duress" by two researchers of his group and not by volunteers, as had been previously declared.  

And another 16 eggs used for research purposes had been acquired for 11,500 US dollars by a South Korean hospital, which donated them to the professor.

"I present my deepest apologies for the embarrassing and tragic news about the use of eggs taken from two researchers of my group," 53-year-old Hwang told a press conference at the State University of Seoul. "Resigning is my way of showing repentance for what happened." Hwang did not let on whether he intends to put a stop to his research altogether.

Before the press conference, the South Korean Health Ministry defended the researcher. An official ministry spokesman said: "The professor did not breach any code of ethnics. Everything happened without his knowledge."

On 19 May last, Hwang's research produced the first cloning "to measure" of embryonic stem cells. AsiaNews had interviewed Prof. Koo Young-moo of Ulsan University, who at the time had denounced ethical problems linked not to the question of embryos but to that of donors.

Koo had said: "Hwang may face problems because he did not tell the 18 donors about the risks related to the operation to extract ova, and the agreement the women signed did not specify that the ova would be killed.

"Allow me to picture the worst-case scenario: if one of the donors – of whom we are not too sure – had to develop Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome, very dangerous for the female capacity to reproduce, she could take Hwang to court. Then the doctor would be in trouble."

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