December 8, 2023


Although the work of Korean stem cell scientist Hwang Woo-suk has been exposed as a fraud, at least seven groups around the world are attempting to create human embryonic stem cells. The scandal has not diverted them from their research goals, but it did make them rethink their strategies on how to achieve them. A variety of approaches are being taken in the key areas of obtaining human eggs and financial backing.

In the US, scientists at Harvard Medical School will rely on compassionate donors” to provide eggs. Harvard is funding their work, along with some private donors. In New York, a lab at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center is working with Rockefeller University and Weill Cornell Medical Center. In California, a team at the University of California San Francisco will be using eggs which failed to fertilise in IVF treatment.

In the UK, Ian Wilmut, the creator of the first cloned mammal, Dolly the sheep, is thinking of using rabbit eggs instead of human eggs to create hybrid stem cells. At the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, a team is trying to build on its success in creating cloned human embryos — the only group to have published a paper documenting their work. And in Spain, a former member of the Newcastle team has set up shop in Valencia where he hopes to use fresh human eggs.

Finally, in China, the Shanghai Institutes for Biological Sciences, is seeking government approval for human cloning. “Hwang’s work was fake, but someone has to do the real thing,” says Guotong Xu, deputy director of the Institute of Health Sciences. In Korea, Seoul National University has confirmed earlier findings that Hwang never successfully cloned a human embryo. The apparent clone was actually the result of parthenogenesis, a form of reproduction in which the embryo develops from an unfertilised egg.