SNU to investigate alleged stem cell fraud
By Yi Whan-woo
Seoul National University (SNU) will launch an investigation this week into the allegation that one of its stem cell researchers fabricated 14 studies submitted to international scientific journals for publication.
The school said Sunday it will decide whether Kang Soo-kyung, a veterinary professor, forged data on her work submitted to 10 overseas journals since 2006.
“We still have to discuss exactly when we should open the investigation, but it is just a matter of time,” an ethics committee official of SNU said. “It could be launched in a few days.”
The decision followed revelation by Retraction Watch, an overseas website that gives detailed information on studies that are recently retracted from international journals for lack of credibility.
The website said on May 21 that Antioxidants and Redox Signaling (ARS), a science journal for stem cells and other cutting-edge fields related to health and diseases, retracted four papers submitted in early May by Kang.
According to the website, the ARS took the measure following a report from a whistleblower who claimed Kang forged data, including photos and graphs, to back specific results she intended.
Two of Kang’s works were already published by then while two others were under review by the ARS for release. The journal asked Kang to explain and she admitted that her work included errors.
The case did not end there as the whistleblower pointed out that the Korean scientist consistently used false data since 2006 in her research published in up to 10 international journals overall. The 10 publications included “Brain” and Aging Cell, two acclaimed neurobiology publications.
ARS and other journals are conducting separate investigations to find out whether Kang deliberately fabricated data.
SNU first said it would wait for the actions those journals will take. But concerns grew here that Kang’s misconduct, regardless of the reason, could deal a severe blow to the nation’s efforts to revive its reputation as a global leader in stem cell research, especially following data manipulation in 2005 by then-SNU professor Hwang Woo-suk, also a veterinary professor. Hwang was seen as an international pioneer in creating human embryonic stem cells through cloning, until his research fraud tarnished both his and Korea’s reputation in stem cell research.
SNU also has been under attack for being negligent in monitoring Kang, who was already given a warning by the school’s disciplinary committee in 2010 for possible use of fabricated photos in one of her studies.
Kang has built her reputation as a stem cell researcher since 2008. She claims that she’s the victim of a “malicious scheme.”
She plans to file a lawsuit against the whistleblower who is Korean.
“About 80 percent of the evidence used against me is false, and I believe we have to consider some malicious intentions involved in this case,” the professor said last week.