SEOUL, South Korea – A discredited South Korean cloning scientist admitted in court Tuesday to ordering subordinates to falsify stem cell data for a paper in a scientific journal, but he insisted he should not be the only one blamed in the scandal.
Hwang Woo-suk, who falsely claimed breakthroughs in creating stem cells from cloned human embryos, testified at the second hearing of a trial in which he is accused of accepting funds under false pretenses, embezzlement and violating the bioethics law by purchasing eggs for research.
For a 2005 paper in the journal Science, Hwang acknowledged that he told researchers to make it appear as if they were basing their results on 11 cloned embryonic stem cell lines, rather than the two lines they were working with.
But he said his researchers also share the blame.
"It was definitely wrong," Hwang testified. "I have no intention to escape the overall responsibility, but I feel differently about the view that all responsibility should lie with me as one of over 30 authors" of the study.
Even the two stem cells which Hwang believed his team created from cloned embryos were also later found to be fakes. They were actually ordinary stem cells created from fertilized eggs, not from cloned embryos.
Prosecutors have concluded that a junior researcher on Hwang's team brought the regular stem cells into the lab and deceived Hwang into believing that they were cloned. The junior researcher also has been charged.
Hwang had previously admitted to inflating some data for his research claims, published by prestigious international journals in 2004 and 2005 and now deemed false.
In an earlier hearing, he testified that the data in the 2004 study was also falsified without his knowledge.
The scientist also maintained on the stand Tuesday that he did not violate the ban on purchasing eggs for research, saying he merely compensated the doctor who provided him with eggs from donors "out of gratitude," rather than as a commercial transaction.
The prestigious Seoul National University fired Hwang earlier this year after concluding that his research claims were fabricated.
Hwang has maintained that he has the technology to clone embryonic stem cells, and his lawyer, Lee Geon-haeng, said last month that he plans to open a new lab and resume research sometime in July.
His prospects were unclear, however, since he is no longer authorized to conduct such research in South Korea.
Hwang was indicted in May for allegedly accepting more than $2 million in private donations based on the outcome of the falsified research and embezzling about $850,000 in private and government research funds.
If convicted, the 52-year-old scientist faces at least three years in prison. Hwang is being tried along with five colleagues who face similar charges.