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Second journal retracts disgraced Korean's report

Written by: Staff

WASHINGTON, Apr 3 (Reuters) A second scientific journal said today it had retracted a report on stem cells submitted by South Korean researchers, including many of the collaborators who worked with disgraced researcher Hwang Woo-suk, after determining some photographs had been faked.

The journal Stem Cells said none of the information in the paper, published in November 2004, could be trusted.

''We are not saying it is fraudulent. We are saying it cannot be believed,'' Dr. Martin Murphy, the journal's executive editor, said in a telephone interview.

Murphy said photographs used to support the paper's contentions were all shots of a single human embryonic stem cell, rather than a series of different cells grown under different conditions, as claimed. Some were also used to support a paper in the journal Science that was shown to have been a fraud.

The Stem Cells paper was important to other stem cell researchers, Murphy said.

''It advanced significantly the culture conditions in which human embryonic stem cells could be cloned. It was a significant advance and therefore published and featured by the journal,'' Murphy said.

''They were photographs of identical clones. It was missed by everybody -- not only the three reviewers and the editors.'' The researchers include a team led by Roh Sung-il, head of the fertility clinic at Mizmedi Women's Hospital in Seoul. Roh was also involved in the Hwang scandal.

Hwang, who has been fired from his job at Seoul National University, worked with Mizmedi researchers in writing his original papers, which garnered global headlines when first published in 2004. He claimed to have cloned human embryos and used those embryos as a source of embryonic stem cells.

His papers appeared to have taken a large first step toward fulfilling the promise of stem cell research -- making tailor-made tissue transplants and perfect matches to study and treat a range of diseases from cancer to spinal cord injuries.

Hwang was feted as a national hero but is now being investigated for potential criminal fraud and violating the country's bioethics laws.

Hwang was not an author on the Stem Cells paper.

Scientists have said they are puzzled by the case, because Hwang's team has been verified by two outside groups to have cloned a dog -- a large technical feat -- and had shown at least some prowess in working with human embryonic stem cells.

Usually with scientific studies, one group publishes details of a successful experiment and then other teams try to replicate the findings. Murphy hopes people who may have tried to repeat the Korean team's work will come forward.

''If people were saying, 'we tried that for three months and by God we couldn't get it to work' ... now we expect to hear from them,'' Murphy said.

Or perhaps the Mizmedi team published accurate information and for unknown reasons used the wrong photographs to illustrate the report, and others have been able to replicate their work, he said.

''That would be the best of all possible worlds,'' Murphy said.

Reuters TM VP0008

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