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Disgraced South Korean Stem Cell Researcher Apologizes to Nation


A day after South Korea's top university accused him of "a criminal act against science," stem cell researcher Hwang Woo-suk has made a limited public apology. Although he accepts full responsibility for what he calls "erroneous" research reports, he says he was deceived by junior researchers, and believes there is a conspiracy against him.

In his first public appearance since his work was thoroughly discredited, Hwang Woo-suk made it clear Thursday he feels bad about having two major research papers exposed as fakes.

In a nationally televised news conference, Hwang says he feels so miserable it is difficult to say sorry. He acknowledged his responsibility as the primary author of the fraudulent studies. However, his apology came with qualifications.

Hwang says three junior researchers at an affiliated hospital lied to him about the research results. He says he believed the results were legitimate when he published them, but admits he did not check the researchers' facts because, he says, he trusted them.

This is not the first time Hwang has alleged a conspiracy against him. He has previously accused the hospital that employed his junior researchers of tampering with his stem cell research.

Stem cells are master cells that can develop into any other part of the body. Hwang claimed he had made breakthroughs by cloning human embryos and extracting stem cells tailored for specific individuals.

Such stem cells could presumably be used to grow new nerves, glands or organs. The announcement raised worldwide hopes for stem cell-oriented treatments for such traumas as spinal injuries, and diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.

On Tuesday, however, a Seoul National University investigative panel confirmed that Hwang had faked data in his two alleged breakthroughs.

The university president formally apologized Wednesday, promising strong disciplinary measures against Hwang, who has resigned all of his positions there.

Hwang and some of his colleagues could now face criminal charges, since they received millions of dollars in research funding from the South Korean government. South Korean media reported that prosecutors conducted an early morning raid on Hwang's residence and other locations to confiscate evidence.

Hwang acknowledged Thursday that he was "blinded" by his overzealous goals. However, he appealed for one more chance to make good on his scientific claims. He says he is absolutely confident he has the technology to produce patient-tailored human stem cells. He says he needs only six months and an abundant supply of human eggs.

But Hwang's tattered reputation - and the potential for criminal prosecution - are likely to undermine any support for his continued work.

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