May 17, 2006

All Those Surprised, Please Raise Your Hands

The Hwang group, despite reports to the contrary in AJOB by the team working directly with Hwang and its group to design a comprehensive egg procurement program, not only appears not to have followed the ethics protocol it supported and embraced but also now to have used many many more eggs - illegally - than it reported, procuring htem from all sorts of places it had not documented carefully.

The program is so massive and so collusive that it strains credibility that anyone in the Hwang group could possibly have been unaware of the activities. Investigations of that are ongoing at many levels. Korea Times notes:

Prosecutors said last Friday that Hwang received 2,236 ova extracted from 136 donors between November 2002 and December 2005 through four medical institutions collaborating with Hwang's research team.

The institutions that cooperated with Hwang include Hanyang University Medical Center, fertility clinic MizMedi Hospital, Jeil General Hospital and Hanna Women's Clinic.

In January, a fact-finding committee at Seoul National University (SNU) said Hwang's team amassed up to 2,061 eggs from 129 donors, far more than the 427 eggs Hwang's team had claimed to have used.

A month later, the National Bioethics Committee revealed Hwang gathered 2,221 eggs from 119 donors for his stem cell research from 2002 until last December, 160 more than reported by the SNU investigative panel.

The committee also concluded his research team ran into serious ethical problems with its ova procurement. Last Friday, the prosecution indicted without detention Hwang on charges of fraud, embezzlement and breaches of the bioethics law, ending a five-month probe into the research fabrication scandal.

Prosecutors said he embezzled 2.8 billion won ($3 million) out of some 40 billion won in research funds for personal purposes and the illegal purchase of ova used in his experiments.

They also accused him of illegally paying some 38 million won to 25 women who provided ova for his research through Hanna Women's Clinic in the first eight months of 2005.

Meanwhile, Hanyang University Medical Center was found to have provided ova from its patients to Hwang's team without the consent of donors, violating the Korean bioethics law.

The center, which sent its researchers to collaborate on the experiments, provided a total of 121 human eggs to Hwang's team between April and November of last year.

Investigators discovered that 113 ova extracted from 72 patients between 2002 and 2003 were sent to Hwang's team without the consent of the donors.

Last month, two women who donated their eggs to Hwang's laboratory filed a lawsuit against the state and two medical centers, claiming they had not been informed about potential risks posed by the egg retrieval processes.

In the suit filed with the Seoul Central District Court, the donors are seeking 32 million won medical compensation each from the government, the Hanyang Medical Center and MizMedi Hospital.

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