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Profile: Hwang Woo-suk

Professor Hwang Woo-suk announces his resignation
Dr Hwang captured the public's imagination

South Korea's Hwang Woo-suk was feted as a national hero when, in 2004, his research team said it had successfully cloned a human embryo and produced stem cells from it, a technique that could one day provide cures for a range of diseases.

But allegations he used unacceptable practices to acquire eggs from human donors, then faked two landmark pieces of research into cloning human stem cells, left his reputation in tatters.

Dr Hwang was born in Bu-yeo, South Korea's Chungnam province in 1953, during the Korean War.

He told the BBC News website in an interview that his childhood was very difficult - his family was poor, and his father died when he was five years old.

But he said he had always had a dream to be a scientist. He trained as a vet at Seoul National University before completing an MSc and then a PhD in theriogenology - the science and practice of animal reproduction.

He claimed to have cloned a cow in 1999, a pig in 2002, and then shot to worldwide fame in 2004 when he claimed to have cloned the first human embryos and to have extracted stem cells from them.

Then in August 2005, his team introduced Snuppy - an Afghan hound puppy which they said was the first cloned dog.

National pride

But within months he and his team were embroiled in controversy, which eventually saw him forced to resign key posts and stripped of his status as a "top scientist".

First Dr Hwang was forced to admit that female researchers in his own lab had supplied eggs for his research.

Then the American co-author on a crucial 2005 paper - Gerald Schatten - broke off their collaboration.

Finally, two key scientific papers, both published in Science Magazine, were found to have been fabricated.

One, from May 2005, claimed he had created 11 stem cell lines from patients - each tailored to that individual. The other, from February 2004, claimed he had created the world's first cloned human embryos.

Dr Hwang apologised for the scandal, but insisted he had been deceived by junior members of his team.

Supporters also pointed out that his work on animal cloning, including Snuppy, had not been called into doubt.

In March 2006, Dr Hwang was fired from his professorship at Seoul National University (SNU) and in May that year was charged with fraud and embezzlement. Dr Hwang had received millions of dollars' worth of funds from the state and private foundations for his research.

The trial ended three years later with his conviction for fraud.

The downfall of Dr Hwang came as a big shock to Koreans, who had taken great pride in what appeared to be the pioneering work of the stem cell researchers at Seoul National University.

Dr Hwang at one point had 15,000 hard-core fans, who belonged to a "I love HWS" online community.



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