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S Korea seeks 4-year prison term for stem cell fraud

SOUTH Korean prosecutors told a Seoul court today they wanted a four year prison term for disgraced scientist Hwang Woo-suk, whose research team has been linked to major fraud in its once-celebrated stem cell studies.

Hwang, once a scientist with rock-star like status in South Korea for his research that brought the country to the forefront of stem cell studies, is facing trial on charges of fraud, misusing state funds and violating bioethics laws.

Prosecutors said Hwang brought shame to the country and harm to scientific research in South Korea.

Hwang's trial at a nondescript Seoul court has been going on for about three years, and could stretch into a fourth, legal experts said.

It has been bogged down in the technical testimony from scores of scientists about the research done by his team.

Hwang's team was thought to have made two major breakthroughs in the field by cloning stem cells and tailoring them to a specific patient, which raised hopes of generating genetically specific tissue to repair damaged organs or treat diseases such as Alzheimer's.

Stem cells are the body's master cells, giving rise to all the tissues, organs and blood. Embryonic stem cells are considered the most powerful kinds of stem cells, as they have the potential to give rise to any type of tissue.

An investigation team at Seoul National University, where Hwang once worked, said in late 2005 that Hwang's team deliberately fabricated vital data in the two papers on human embryonic stem cells.


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