Hwang gets ownership of (disputed) stem cell technology

Hwang Woo-suk, the disgraced veterinary scientist who published ground-breaking stem cell research based on fraudulent data, is receiving ownership of the work he did at Seoul National University (SNU) before he was fired.

According to the Korea Times, Hyun Sang-hwan, Hwang’s colleague at the Sooam Biotech Research Center, confirmed that SNU had handed over the intellectual property rights for Hwang’s claimed inventions in human stem cell research to H-Bion, a biotech company Hwang established in May last year. KT says that  this new deal allows Hwang to keep the patent applications alive under the name of H-Bion. In selling the ownership of Hwang’s work to H-Bion, SNU was paid 140 million won ($103,800), identical to the amount of money spent by the school in applying for the patents, a source said. (The school had applied for patents in 11 countries)

This is an extremely interesting development, because SNU announced last month that it would no longer pursue overseas patents for the controversial stem cell production technology. The university had held the rights to the studies, which were led by Hwang and his team of researchers, but said that it would give them up because they didn’t want to spend money to obtain a patent for such controversial research and that they didn’t have the funds to manage the patents even if they had them.

The “technology” in question was one used by Hwang’s team to derive stem cell lines from human embryos. This research was published in the journal Science in 2004, followed by a follow-up paper reporting customization of those stem cells lines, but both were retracted in 2006 after Hwang was belatedly discovered to have written those papers based on fabricated data.

In an internal investigation, a panel at SNU concluded that although the research contained fabricated data, Hwang had indeed succeeded in producing one stem cell line, though the manner in which it was produced was somewhat “accidental.”

Although disgraced by his manipulated studies on embryonic stem cells, Hwang has been acknowledged for cloning dogs, which is continuing to do in liaison with an American biotech firm, although that has put him in an uncomfortable position against his former dog-cloning colleague Lee Byung-cheon, who is also cloning dogs for commercial and research purposes in collaboration with RNL Bio, a Korean biotech firm.

Meanwhile, dedicated fans of Hwang celebrated on their fansite, “I Love Hwang Woo-suk.” Despite his violation of ethics laws, proof of faking scientific data, and embezzlement charges (still pending) he has been able to maintain a huge fanbase, which includes religious groups (another interesting factor considering he was involved in human cloning.)

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