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Disgraced Korean Researcher's Cloned Dog Is Real

Experts confirm what may be Dr. Hwang Woo-Suk's sole achievement

WEDNESDAY, March 8, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- It's official -- Snuppy, the Afghan hound created at the lab of now-disgraced South Korean researcher Dr. Hwang Woo-Suk, can retain the distinction of being the world's first cloned dog.

An independent investigating committee from South Korea has confirmed what scientists commissioned by the journal Nature announced earlier this year.

"There's nothing ambiguous about the findings," said Elaine Ostrander, chief of the cancer genetics branch at the U.S. National Human Genome Research Institute and one of the scientists retained by the journal to verify the Snuppy findings.

Ostrander is co-author of one of two papers in the current issue of Nature validating Snuppy's lineage. The other was from the Seoul National University Investigation Committee.

A research team headed by Hwang, of Seoul National University, first announced the birth of Snuppy in 2005.

At the time, Snuppy was the least of Hwang's achievements.

His research team made even bigger headlines in June 2005 when it claimed to have created 11 disease-specific embryonic stem cell lines using very few human eggs and again when they claimed to have successfully cloned human embryonic stem cell lines. These apparent accomplishments were published in the journal Science.

Hwang's research involved a technique called somatic-cell nuclear transfer, also known as "research cloning" or "therapeutic cloning." The method involves taking a cell from an adult or child, and then using it to replace the nucleus of a donated egg. That egg is then used to create a new line of cells.

Use of this technique is seriously limited in the United States, where labs are prohibited from producing these lines using equipment or facilities paid for with federal government funds.

However, Hwang's apparently groundbreaking research in human stem cells turned out to have been faked.

That leaves Snuppy as his chief accomplishment. It's a feat that has under-whelmed the scientific community, however.

"I don't think it's of earth-shattering significance," Ostrander said. "Many other mammals have been cloned. This was just seven or eight in a long line and, while it was more challenging than some of the other mammals because of the dog's reproductive system, it was pretty much a brute force method to get it to work."

The achievement also does not leave the world with an easily reproducible, highly efficient methodology. "It isn't as though it represents a major breakthrough in reproductive technology," Ostrander said.

So, even if Snuppy had turned out not to have been legitimately cloned, it wouldn't have been a big disappointment.

A much bigger disappointment is the enduring fact that Hwang's other research was faked.

"The more significant claim in terms of medical uses was the claim that he had made stem cells by therapeutic cloning," said Dr. Susan Okie, a contributing editor at the New England Journal of Medicine. "The field took a giant step back."

"It's still important to know that the dog was cloned but it doesn't take away the shadow in my mind," Okie continued. "We've had cloned animals before. It shows they did some good science. It's reassuring, but the bigger concern is, can we ever do this nuclear transfer?"

More information

To learn more about stem cells and stem cell research, visit the International Society for Stem Cell Research.

SOURCES: Elaine Ostrander, Ph.D., chief, cancer genetics branch, U.S. National Human Genome Research Institute, Bethesda, Md.; Susan Okie, M.D., contributing editor, the New England Journal of Medicine; March 9, 2006, Nature
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