Another stem cell paper retracted
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An international scientific journal yesterday became the second publication to retract a paper on embryonic stem cells authored by South Korean researchers, including two who formerly worked at the University of Pittsburgh.
The two researchers, Kim Sun-jong and Park Jong-hyuk, were also co-authors of two fraudulent papers by disgraced stem-cell researcher Hwang Woo-suk that appeared in the journal Science in 2004 and 2005.
They were Pitt research associates of Dr. Gerald P. Schatten, director of the Pittsburgh Development Center and Magee-Womens Research Institute, who was senior author of the May 2005 paper by Dr. Hwang in the journal Science, which has since been retracted.
Stem Cells' retraction, the first in its 24-year history, was announced yesterday in a statement by the journal's editors, who said the article contained photographs purported to be different embryonic stem cells grown under different conditions when, in fact, they were duplicate shots of the same cells.
In addition, some of the photographs had been used with one of the discredited papers appearing in Science.
Both Korean researchers have left Pittsburgh. They and four other South Korean researchers were involved in the papers appearing in both journals.
In addition, four papers by Korean researchers in the journals Molecules and Cells, Reproduction and Biology of Reproduction also are under scrutiny.
"Essentially, every good journal that has published papers from any of the authors or co-authors is scouring its current and past literature to see if there's potentially anything amiss," said Martin J. Murphy, executive editor of Stem Cells.
The South Korean researchers in question intersect in numerous ways.
The former Pitt researcher Dr. Kim was not only lead author of the Stem Cells paper, but co-authored all seven publications now under investigation. Korean media reported last night that prosecutors have reached a preliminary conclusion that Dr. Kim fabricated stem cell cultures without Dr. Hwang's knowledge. Those manipulated samples led Dr. Hwang -- and Dr. Schatten -- to claim success in embryonic stem-cell cloning.
The senior author of the Stem Cells paper, Yoon Hyun-soo, co-authored six of the seven suspect publications.
Roh Sung-il, listed as a co-author on one of the retracted Science papers and on the Stem Cell paper, is chairman of MizMedi Hospital in Seoul, the fertility clinic where women donated eggs for Dr. Hwang's research. Mr. Roh has admitted lying about how the eggs were acquired for research.
Stem Cells' editor-in-chief, Curt I. Civin, a professor of cancer research at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, said the journal considered investigating a 2006 paper in Stem Cells co-authored by Dr. Schatten. Dr. Civin said that was not pursued because a Pitt inquiry in February concluded Dr. Schatten did not intentionally falsify stem-cell research information described in the 2005 Science paper.
The November 2004 Stem Cells paper was important because it purported to advance the ability to cultivate human embryonic stem cells and freeze them, while retaining their full viability.
Stem cells are considered the building blocks of the human body's blood and immune systems because they have the potential to develop into different cell types.
Beginning last November, Dr. Murphy said there were discussions on a Korean blog that the claims in the Stem Cells paper could not be believed. An initial letter from the journal to Mr. Roh in December calling for an investigation was not answered. Dr. Murphy said editors from Science joined in sending a second letter in early January.
According to Dr. Murphy, Mr. Roh gave "a nonproductive response." A third letter garnered a response, but by then South Korean authorities were investigating the misconduct surrounding Dr. Hwang, and all labs and research materials needed to investigate the Stem Cells paper were unavailable.
Dr. Civin said the retracted Stem Cells paper does not "rise to a reasonable standard of credibility." The duplicated microphotographs appearing in the publication were "at best, a graphic indication of unacceptable scientific record-keeping and reporting; or, at worst, fraudulent."
First Published April 4, 2006 12:00 am