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Women's eggs for research: Scandal expands

Genetic Crossroads
January 27th, 2006

Two South Korean investigations of Hwang Woo-Suk have found that the discredited researcher used many more eggs than he had acknowledged, that many of the women who provided the eggs suffered adverse reactions, and that the ethical breaches committed were more serious than previously believed.

Women's groups at a press conference

Hwang's 2005 paper was heralded in part because it claimed that the number of eggs needed to produce a cloned embryo was much lower than had previously been believed. But a panel at Seoul National University (SNU) found that Hwang's lab actually used a very large number of themó2,061 eggs from a total of 129 women. According to reports in South Korean newspapers, 20% of these women developed ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome from the hormonal drugs used in the process. More than 12% were treated in a hospital, and two were hospitalized for additional care.

South Korean women's rights groups and progressive legislators host hearing on eggs for research

South Korean liberals are criticizing the conservative administration for lavishing funds on Hwang without properly monitoring his activities. Feminist groups held press conferences to protest the government's failure to protect women who provide the eggs for cloning research, and co-sponsored a forum with the ruling liberal Uri Party and the social democratic Democratic Labor Party on the need for effective regulation to protect women's health.

CGS has received an exclusive translated summary of this forum from an observer. According to the summary, DLP Congresswoman Choi Soon-young said the protection of women's rights to control their bodies and protect their health is fundamental to the process of providing eggs for research, and promised to take action in the National Assembly.

Junior researchers coerced to provide eggs for cloning research

The SNU panel also found that Hwang himself had accompanied two junior researchers on his team to the hospital for the egg extraction procedure. One of them, Park Eul-soon, was pressured by Hwang to undergo the procedure because she spilled an egg sample in the lab. According to another news report, she was offered co-authorship of the cloning paper in exchange for her eggs.

A second panel, convened by Korea's National Bioethics Commission, found that Hwang's research team did not properly inform women about the health risks involved in the egg extraction procedure and cited the team for ethical lapses. The Ministry of Health is investigating the four hospitals involved with the research, and the Commission will recommend a criminal investigation if its conclusions are validated.

US researchers jump into a new "cloning race" with adds soliciting women's eggs

Immediately after it was confirmed that Hwang's claims were completely fraudulent, a number of researchers indicated that they would redouble their own efforts to be the first to clone a human embryo. Advanced Cell Technologies' Robert Lanza, for example, told a reporter that "the race is back on." By early January, ACT had begun advertising for women to "be part of the cure" by providing their eggs.

Egg scandal reverberates in California

In California, the Sacramento Bee reported that concern about the ethical violations in South Korea may generate increased support to Senator Ortiz in her effort to pass a new measure to protect women who provide eggs for research by ensuring meaningful informed consent, restricting payment for eggs beyond expenses, and encouraging research on the health risks of the egg extraction procedure. An earlier version of the bill passed the House and Senate with large margins, but was vetoed by Governor Schwarzenegger because of unrelated provisions.


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