Notebook > Medicine

Cloning's Piltdown man

Medicine | Following months of accusations, an investigation committee reports that Hwang Woo-Suk's research results were fabricated

Issue: "Five-man legacy," Jan. 28, 2006

A 9-month-old Afghan hound named Snuppy can now claim more than just the title "World's First Cloned Dog." An investigation into the research of his engineer, South Korea's Hwang Woo-Suk, revealed Snuppy was also Mr. Hwang's only legitimate scientific discovery during the two years he lied to the world about astonishing achievements he never made.

Mr. Hwang led a research team at Seoul National University, where he rose to fame for allegedly refining an efficient technique for cloning human embryos and extracting stem cells from them. His claims of success laid the cornerstone for a branch of medical science that sought to use stem cells from clones of sick people to engineer their own tissue for rejection-proof transplants. Supporters of embryonic stem-cell research and so-called therapeutic cloning based much of their hope on the validity of Mr. Hwang's findings.

Following months of accusations against Mr. Hwang's ethics and results, an investigation committee at the university reported on Jan. 9 that Mr. Hwang's research results were fabricated. He passed off original embryos and cells as clones in the journal Science. The fake clones were actually real embryos manufactured by in vitro fertilization.

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Andrew Fergusson, president and CEO of the Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity, compared the fraud by Mr. Hwang to the 1953 Piltdown Man debacle. In the early 20th century, an amateur archaeologist in Piltdown, England, claimed to have found a skull belonging to a species that was the missing evolutionary link between humans and apes. The skull was exposed as a fraud in 1953, debunking decades of evolutionary theory.

In the same way, Mr. Hwang's case calls into question the theory that it is possible to use cloning to create a perfect tissue match for someone in need of a transplant. That theory is even more suspect, according to Dr. Fergusson, when juxtaposed with the success of using a person's own adult stem cells to treat diseases.

"All the proof is in adult stem-cell research," Dr. Fergusson said. "God has designed the world with a built-in ethic. I'm not sure that embryonic stem-cell research is ever going to work, but that's a theological hunch, rather than a scientific one."

Making the Rounds

A Phoenix judge ruled Jan. 10 that mother plus unborn baby equals one when driving in the carpool lane. The judge ruled against Candace Dickinson, who tried to talk her way out of a traffic ticket by arguing that the baby inside her counted toward the two-people-per-car minimum in the Phoenix HOV lane. Sgt. Dave Norton, who pulled over Ms. Dickinson, said he had heard the excuse once before. If accepted by the courts, Mr. Norton said, Ms. Dickinson's defense "would require officers to carry guns, radios, and pregnancy testers, and I don't think we want to go there."

A new study shows dogs can detect lung cancer with almost perfect accuracy by smelling people's breath. The experiment, conducted at the California Pine Street Foundation, tested the ability of dogs to smell the metabolic waste products of cancer cells, which differ from those of healthy cells. Researchers trained dogs to sit when they smelled the byproducts of lung cancer on people's breath, which the dogs did 99 percent of the time. Will patients start seeing nurses with Labradors at checkups? No, but the findings could help advances to detect lung cancer earlier, with fewer false negatives.

Got an early meeting? You might be better off pulling an all-nighter than rushing to the office after you wake up. A University of Colorado study suggests that sleep inertia, or post-waking grogginess, might impair cognitive thinking more than sleep deprivation. The finding could be important news for emergency and medical workers who take naps during overnight shifts. The study's authors said the most severe effects of sleep inertia generally subside within the first 10 minutes, although its effects can linger for up to two hours.

Lynde Langdon
Lynde Langdon

Lynde lives in Wichita, Kan., with her husband and two daughters. She holds degrees from the University of Missouri in journalism, Russian, and business administration. She is in a long-term, committed relationship with the Lutheran church. Follow Lynde on Twitter @lmlangdon.

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