SEOUL, South Korea – South Korea's top university said Tuesday it has commissioned tests on more cell samples taken from disgraced scientist Hwang Woo-suk's lab amid reports that earlier results proved his claim to have created stem cells individually tailored to patients.
The investigation panel at Seoul National University has asked three outside labs to conduct the DNA tests to determine whether Hwang was ever able to develop a colony of stem cells from a cloned embryo as he claimed in a May article in the journal Science. Hwang's work had raised hopes of finding new cures for hard-to-treat diseases.
The panel said Friday that at least nine of the 11 stem cell lines documented in the article were fabricated, and that it was investigating the remaining two.
South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported Tuesday that some test results already received showed that some stem cells, created after the paper was published, did match patients' DNA.
"However, there's a view that it is hard to see them as stem cells since they are in an early stage" of nurturing, an unnamed university official was quoted as saying by Yonhap.
The panel plans to give a final report on the investigation next week.
The university said it was considering additional analysis to investigate Hwang's claim last year that his team cloned the world's first human embryo and extracted stem cells from it.
Stem cells are also known as master cells that can develop into any tissue or organ in the body.
"For an accurate and prudent analysis, we could commission analysis of more samples," the university said in a statement.
Last week, Hwang, who had been lionized in South Korea for his purported breakthroughs, apologized for the fabrication and stepped down as professor at the university. He insisted, however, that his team has developed the technology to create patient-matched stem cells.
Hwang, however, has claimed that some of his cloned stem cells were switched with those from a fertilized egg, and has filed a legal complaint, asking prosecutors to investigate.
Stem cells taken from a fertilized egg would not be an identical match to a patient's DNA.