Supreme Scientist - Timeline


Hwang first caught media attention in South Korea when he announced he successfully created a cloned dairy cow, Yeongrong-i in February 1999. His alleged success was touted as the fifth instance in the world in cow cloning, with a notable caveat: Hwang failed to provide scientifically verifiable data for the research, giving only media sessions and photo-ops. Hwang's next claim came only two months later in April 1999, when he announced the cloning of a Korean cow, Jin-i, also without providing any scientifically verifiable data. Despite the notable absence of any of the scientific data needed to probe the validity of the research, Hwang's several claims were well received by the South Korean media and public, who were attracted by Hwang's claim of immeasurable economic prospect that his research was said to be promising. Until 2004, Hwang's main area of research remained in creating genetically modified livestock that included cows and pigs. During that period, Hwang claimed to have created a BSE-resistant cow (which has not been verified) and also stated his intention to clone a Siberian tiger.

In February 2004, Hwang and his team announced that they had successfully created an embryonic stem cell with the somatic cell nuclear transfer method, and published their paper in the March 12 issue of Science. Although Hwang had already established himself as an expert in animal cloning and secured celebrity status in South Korea in the late 90s, his alleged sudden success came as a surprise because this was the first reported success in human somatic cell cloning. Until Hwang's claim, it was generally agreed that creating a human stem cell by cloning was next to impossible due to the complexity of primates. Hwang explained that his team used 242 eggs to create a single cell line.

Hwang's team announced an even greater achievement a year later in May 2005, and claimed they had created 11 human embryonic stem cells using 185 eggs. His work, published in the June 17 issue of Science, was instantly hailed as a breakthrough in biotechnology because the cells were allegedly created with somatic cells from patients of different age and gender, while the stem cell of 2004 was created with eggs and somatic cells from a single female donor. This meant every patient could receive custom-made treatment with no immune reactions. In addition, Hwang's claim meant that his team had boosted their success rate by 14 times and that this technology could be medically viable.

Hwang made further headlines in May 2005 when he criticized U.S. President George W. Bush's policy on embryonic stem cell research. Also, Time magazine named Hwang one of its "People Who Mattered 2004," stating that Hwang "has already proved that human cloning is no longer science fiction, but a fact of life."

Following on the earlier success, on August 3, 2005, Hwang announced that his team of researchers had become the first team to successfully clone a dog, which has been independently verified through genetic testing. The dog, an Afghan Hound, was named Snuppy.

Shortly after his groundbreaking 2005 work, Hwang was appointed to head the new World Stem Cell Hub, a facility that was to be the world's leading stem cell research centre. However, in November 2005, Gerald Schatten, a University of Pittsburgh researcher who had worked with Hwang for two years, made the surprise announcement that he had ceased his collaboration with Hwang. In an interview, Schatten commented that "my decision is grounded solely on concerns regarding oocyte (egg) donations in Hwang's research reported in 2004." Following an intense media probe, Roh Sung-il, one of Hwang's close collaborators and head of MizMedi Women's Hospital, held a news conference on November 21.

During the conference Roh admitted that he had paid women US$1,400 each for donating their eggs, eggs that were later used in Hwang's research. However, Roh claimed Hwang was unaware of this, while the South Korean Ministry of Health assured that no laws or ethical guidelines had been breached as there were no commercial interests involved in this payout. Hwang maintained that he was unaware that these actions were happening during the research and he resigned from his post.

On November 22, "PD Su-cheop" (Producer's Notebook), a popular MBC investigative reporting show, raised the possibility of unethical conduct in the egg cell acquiring process. Despite the factual accuracy of the report, news media as well as people caught up in nationalistic fervor in their unwavering support for Hwang asserted that criticism of Hwang's work was "unpatriotic," so much so that the major companies who were sponsoring the show immediately withdrew their support.

On November 24, Hwang held a press conference in Seoul, in which he declared his intention of resigning from most of his official posts.

He also apologized for his actions. In the interview he said, "I was blinded by work and my drive for achievement." He denied coercing his researchers into donating eggs and claimed that he found out about the situation only after it had occurred.

He added that he had lied about the source of the eggs donated to protect the privacy of his female researchers, and that he was not aware of the Declaration of Helsinki, which clearly enumerates his actions as a breach of ethical conduct.

After the press conference, which was aired on all major South Korean television networks, most of the nation's media outlets, government ministries, and the public gave support to Hwang. Sympathy for Hwang poured out, resulting in an increase in the number of women who wanted to donate their eggs for Hwang's research.

On December 29, 2005, the university determined that all 11 of Hwang's stem cell lines were fabricated. The university announced on January 10, 2006, that Hwang's 2004 and 2005 papers on Science were both fabricated. Following on the confirmation of scientific misconduct, on January 11, Science retracted both of Hwang's papers on unconditional terms.

On January 12, 2006, Hwang held a press conference to apologize for the entire fiasco, but still did not admit to cheating. Instead, he explicitly put the blame on other members of his research project for having deceived him with false data and alleged a conspiracy, saying that his projects had been sabotaged and that there was theft of materials involved. He said that cloning human stem cells was possible and that he had the technology to do it, and if he were given six more months he could prove it. This is an extension of the "ten days" he said he needed to re-create the stem cells that he asked for back on December 16, 2005. Seoul prosecutors raided his home that day for files and evidence, to start a "criminal investigation" of Hwang.

On January 20, 2006 Hwang maintained that two of his 11 forged stem cell lines had been maliciously switched for cells from regular, not cloned, embryos. The allegation involves the lines Hwang claims to have created at Seoul-based MizMedi Hospital.

In February 2010, Hwang received EU PATENT with patient-specific embryonic stem cell, namely “Culture medium for human blastocysts”

In July 2011, Hwang received CANADIAN PATENT with patient-specific embryonic stem cell “NT-1 Embryonic Stem Cell Line and Method for preparing the same”.

In March 2012, Hwang received NEW ZEALAND PATENT with patient-specific embryonic stem cell “NT-1 Embryonic Stem Cell Line and Method for preparing the same”.

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