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First U.S. Public Funding of Research Cloning Tainted by Scandal and Questions

Genetic Crossroads
April 30th, 2007

Pochon Cha University

In recent weeks, the California stem cell agency approved the first public funding of cloning-based human stem cell research in the United States. Five grants were awarded for projects involving the technique known as research cloning or somatic cell nuclear transfer.

While four of these grants went to well-known institutions including Stanford University and the Burnham Institute for Medical Research, one was given to a far less familiar recipient: the Cha Regenerative Medicine Institute (RMI) in Los Angeles. This $2.6 million grant raised especially troubling questions; there have been several independent accusations of illegal and unethical behavior by key personnel in the global corporation of which Cha RMI is a subsidiary. (News articles: 1, 2, 3)

CGS called on the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) to investigate the situation. "The CIRM needs to live up to its oft-stated commitments to transparency and responsibility by freezing this multi-million dollar award while a thorough investigation is undertaken," said CGS's Marcy Darnovsky in a press statement. "If questions cannot be satisfactorily answered, the grant should be rescinded."

Among the troubling questions about Cha RMI and its parent company:

bullet Cha RMI is a California nonprofit organization established only last year by Cha Health Systems, a South Korea-based global corporation whose holdings include Pochon Cha University and its College of Medicine, nine clinics and hospitals in South Korea and the U.S., two research institutes, four Los Angeles-based healthcare management companies, and four medical venture companies. Did Cha Health Systems establish this subsidiary in order to pursue California public funding?

bullet The Cha Fertility Center and Cha RMI are located in the same Los Angeles office building, raising further questions about where and how Cha RMI will procure eggs for its CIRM-funded research on cloning techniques. As CGS's press statement put it, "Women's health advocates have warned about the health risks of egg retrieval, as well as about likely conflicts of interest between fertility doctors conducting egg retrieval and researchers who want the eggs for their experiments."

bullet The medical director of the Cha Fertility Center, another Cha Health Systems subsidiary, has been named in a lawsuit filed by a woman who says that he lied about the number of eggs he collected from her and other aspects of her medical care.

bullet The founder of the Cha Health Systems empire and chancellor of Pochon Cha University, Kwang-Yul Cha, is at the center of a plagiarism scandal. A young researcher, Jeong-Hwan Kim, claims that Cha listed himself as the first author of an article in Fertility and Sterility that was based on his doctoral dissertation but did not credit him. Last week, the journal retracted the article on grounds of "duplicate publication."


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