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scientists react to Professor Hwang Woo-suk’s resignation

UK stem cell research leaders comment on the resignation of Professor Hwang Woo-suk, a cloning pioneer from South Korea, who today apologised for using human eggs from his own researchers.

Prof Roger Pedersen, Professor of regenerative medicine and convenor of the Cambridge Stem Cell Initiative, Cambridge University, said:

“It would be premature to judge the situation from afar without all the facts. These will only emerge from a thorough investigation by a duly constituted local ethics review process.”

Professor Ian Wilmut, University of Edinburgh and Professor Christopher Shaw, King’s College London, said:

“We are saddened by the confusion that has arisen in Korea and the distress that has been caused to those concerned. In the UK we are fortunate to have had the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority in place for 15 years to supervise all research with human embryos.”

Prof Peter Braude, Kings College London, said:

“This is an awful shame, that a talented researcher has been found to have lied when questioned on this specific issue over a year ago. However it does not detract from the very real advance that the group has made to the science of stem therapy in demonstrating that tailor made lines can be made relatively easily from eggs if they are donated by young women. The means to achieving this is questionable not the data. We must give serious thought to how we can obtain eggs from young women in an ethical way.”

Dr Chris Mason, Director of Regenerative Medicine Bioprocessing Unit, UCL, said:

“We in the UK need to impress that we are working to the highest ethical standards and that there are controls in place to ensure this would never happen in the UK.”

Professor Robin Lovell-Badge, Head of Division, Developmental Genetics, National Institute for Medical Research, said:

“It is a great pity that unchecked enthusiasm for what was ground-breaking research has led to Professor Hwang’s resignation. I would be surprised if he was the only culpable person, as the clinicians involved in the egg donation procedure and the other authors on his papers should have been aware if lab members were involved. While it is likely that there was no coercion to donate, publication in the international arena – especially on such a sensitive issue – it was clearly a mistake not to take account of Western ethics. The issue was raised after Hwang’s first paper on therapeutic cloning was published in the journal Science in March 2004, when it became clear that a lab member had donated eggs. It is possible that the subsequent, far more extensive work published in June this year, also in Science, was already well underway when the ethical issues were first highlighted, but this is no excuse for lies and for damaging trust in scientists. The research field can learn lessons from the whole story: the excellent research carried out by Hwang and his team must continue, but in a way that considers the ethics in an appropriate way. The UK is lucky in this, with all the safeguards provided by the HFEA and associated laws, whereas other countries, including some in the West, still need to sort themselves out in a rational way.”

Professor Colin McGuckin, Professor of Regenerative Medicine, Newcastle University, said:

“It has always been my policy that ethics and morals start at home in the lab. We must protect the young staff working in stem cell medicine. But let us not forget that Korean stem cell research was not just about one man – much good research has been done there.”

Dr. Simon Best, BioIndustry Association (BIA) board member, said:

“Donated human biological samples are important to the discovery of new treatments for patients. The UK has among the world’s highest standards governing stem cell research and the donation of human eggs is regulated by a specialist authority. Stringent controls exist ensuring that donated samples are handled in a respectful and ethical manner. These standards are vital for the responsible progress of science.”

Prof Steven Minger, Senior Lecturer and Director of King College London Stem Cell Biology Laboratory, said:

“Yet again, this highlights why the tough regulatory climate in the UK is protection rather than a problem. UK regulation overseen by the HFEA would have prevented this kind of abuse as there are no ambiguities about how you can source eggs for stem cell research. I believe that Hwang should have answered these questions over a year ago and dealt with people’s important ethical concerns.”

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