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January 5, 2006

Pitt investigates questionable stem cell research

A Pitt investigative board is continuing its examination of two articles co-authored by Pitt professor Gerald Schatten in collaboration with discredited Korean stem cell researcher Woo-Suk Hwang.

Pitt research integrity officer Jerome L. Rosenberg, head of the six-member panel, said it could complete its report to Arthur Levine, senior vice chancellor of Health Sciences and dean of the School of Medicine, by the end of January.

Schatten is a co-author of a May 2005 Science article in which Hwang reported developing 11 cloned human stem cell lines from embryos. Schatten also is co-author of an August 2005 Nature article in which Hwang announced the first successful cloning of a dog, the afghan hound Snuppy.

Both articles have come under scrutiny by the journals as well as by Pitt and Seoul National University (from which Hwang has since resigned following questions about the validity of his work).

In December, Schatten asked Science to retract the 2005 article amid concerns about its accuracy. The journal has clarified that Schatten’s contribution to the article was centered on data analysis and manuscript preparation and did not directly involve research with human subjects.

Three other Pitt researchers, Sun Jong Kim, Jong Hyuk Park and Eul Soon Park, are listed as co-authors of a 2004 article in which Hwang first reported deriving human stem cell lines from a cloned embryo. Kim and Jong Hyuk Park also are co-authors of the 2005 Science article that is under review by the Pitt panel.

Schatten broke with Hwang’s team in November in the wake of ethical questions over payments to egg donors and the collection of eggs from junior members of the research team. Not long after, Hwang’s scientific claims began to unravel.

Following independent DNA analysis of samples from Hwang’s lab, the Seoul University committee on Dec. 29 concluded the 2005 Science article was fabricated. “There are neither patient-specific (nuclear-transferred) stem cell lines in Hwang’s laboratory nor any scientific evidences to support the claim that such cell lines ever existed,” an interim report stated. Results of the Korean panel’s review of data from the 2004 article and the dog-cloning claims are not yet complete.

UPMC News Bureau spokeswoman Jane Duffield said the University’s investigators and the Korean panel have interviewed at least two of the Pitt researchers. She also confirmed that Schatten has received a list of questions from the Korean panel.

Schatten, who heads the Pittsburgh Development Center at Magee Womens Research Institute, conducts research in non-human primate cloning.

Duffield said it is premature to say whether National Institutes of Health funding of the center will be affected. Grants were not predicated on the research that’s being questioned, Duffield said, adding that Schatten’s primate-cloning research likewise was not dependent on the studies that are under review.

—Kimberly K. Barlow

Filed under: Feature,Volume 38 Issue 9

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