News that results of a South Korean study on embryonic stem cells have been fabricated does not just embarrass the country but also opens the door to increased criticism of a science already under scrutiny, experts have said.
An investigation panel at the university where renowned scientist Hwang Woo-suk had his laboratory said on Friday that the results of a landmark 2005 paper from the team he led were intentionally fabricated.
Hwang's research was celebrated because he had given
hope to many suffering from debilitating and deadly diseases.
It could fulfill one of the basic promises of embryonic stem cell research, namely growing genetic-specific tissue that could be transplanted to repair damaged body parts.
Embryonic stem cells are taken from days-old embryos called blastocysts and have the potential to produce any kind of cell or tissue in the human body.
Critics, including George Bush, the US President, object to certain types of human embryonic stem cell research because they see it as tantamount to destroying human life.
Laurie Zoloth, a bioethics professor at Northwestern University, located in the Chicago area said, "The idea of stem cells is still real. That is not a fraud,"
"Some of the basic optimism, enthusiasm and hopefulness will be tempered by this," she said by telephone.
No major setback
Medical researchers in the United States have said they expect the scandal in South Korea will not cause a major setback for stem cell research, but they think it will be used by those opposed to the field to galvanise their positions.
Oh Il-hwan, Catholic University Medical school professor in South Korea, said the pressure to succeed might have caused Hwang to cut corners and rush to have his research published.
"I understand what drove Hwang into this state. The press and the people didn't leave him alone and let him focus on his research. The pressure to achieve something was enormous," Oh said by telephone.
Oh said the fallout from the Hwang scandal had tainted South Korean achievements in science and technology.
"Our country's credibility has fallen," Oh said. "Our nation's name was on the line for this achievement now the pride of our country is greatly bruised."