SEOUL (Reuters) - A South Korean scientist whose landmark paper on tailored embryonic stem cells has been debunked still says he can produce the cells and thinks people are out to discredit him, a newspaper reported on Saturday.
A South Korean panel dealt a devastating blow to disgraced scientist Hwang Woo-suk on Thursday. It concluded that his team, once celebrated for a breakthrough in attempts to develop genetically specific material for medical use, had not proved they had produced the tailored embryonic stem cells.
Beopbo, a South Korean Buddhist newspaper, reported comments Hwang made to Kim Jae-il, head of a Buddhist association that has supported him and his work.
Kim said Hwang was worried there were people who had undermined his work and might be trying to take his technology.
"I have the technology to make tailored embryonic stem cells, that's for sure. I can replicate the process any time. My worry is that South Korea's own stem cell technology may be taken abroad," Hwang was quoted as saying.
Hwang has been in seclusion for more than a week.
He sought solace for several days at a Buddhist temple in late November when his team's work first came under close scrutiny, initially with accusations they violated ethical norms in procuring human egg cells.
He was last seen by the public on Dec. 23 when he resigned his professorship on the same day the investigation panel said data in his paper was deliberately fabricated and Hwang bore a heavy load of responsibility for the fraud.
According to the newspaper, Hwang told Kim he had not tampered with the work, but that somebody else had.
"It's certain stem cells have been replaced, and experts would all know that. I think prosecutors would unearth (the stem cell replacement) in about two days after they launch an investigation," Hwang was quoted as telling Kim.
"My personal thought is that the replacement was conducted under a detailed, long-term plan," Kim quoted him as saying.
"I've already asked prosecutors to investigate the replacement of stem cells. The replacement could be done only by specific figures," the newspaper reported Hwang as telling Kim. No further details were provided.
The May 2005 paper published in the U.S. periodical Science was received with great acclaim because the findings brought embryonic stem cell studies closer to the day when genetically specific material could be generated to cure ailments such as severe spinal cord injuries.
Science said earlier this week it plans to retract the paper from Hwang's team.
The Seoul National University panel that said there was no data to prove Hwang's team had produced tailored embryonic stem cells is also investigating two other landmark achievements by the team.
The university panel is checking the veracity of a 2004 paper on producing the first cloned human embryos for research, and the 2005 announcement about producing the world's first cloned dog.