I e-mailed the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center News Bureau, and they very kindly sent me a copy of Dr. Schatten's prepared statement regarding leaving the World Stem Cell Hub. The full text of the statement is as follows:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
UNIVERSITY OF PITTSBURGH RESEARCHER ENDS COLLABORATION WITH SOUTH KOREAN STEM CELL PROGRAM
PITTSBURGH, Nov. 12 – Gerald Schatten, Ph.D, director, Pittsburgh Development Center, and Professor, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, today announced that he is concluding a twenty-month collaboration with the South Korean research team lead by Woo-Suk Hwang, D.V.M., Ph.D. Schatten cited a breach of trust about possible egg-donor recruitment irregularities as the reason for his disengagement.
Dr. Schatten stated: “I regret to announce that I have suspended my collaborations with Prof. Woo-Suk Hwang, including my involvement with the World Stem Cell Hub project. My decision is grounded solely on concerns regarding oocyte donations in Dr. Hwang’s research reported in 2004 (Hwang et al, Science 303, 1669-1674). I continue to believe the scientific accomplishments of Prof. Hwang and his team at Seoul National University, including those in which I had been involved (Hwang et al, 05 Science 308, 1777-1783; Lee et al., 05 Nature 436, 7051), are landmark discoveries accelerating biomedical research.”
Human embryonic stem cells derived after nuclear transfer (NT-hESCs) hold invaluable promises for learning the root causes of diseases, for making better and safer medicines and even for potentially treating devastating illnesses and disorders, according to many leading scientists. Dr. Hwang’s team received international acclaim starting in 2004 for deriving the world’s first NT-hESC line. This original research published in SCIENCE, was followed by another publication in June 2005, also in SCIENCE, on which Dr. Schatten was the senior author. Although Dr. Schatten was not involved with donor recruitment and did not participate in any experiments, he reviewed the data sent to him, helped prepare the manuscript and was a scientific adviser. In that study, eleven new NT-hESC lines were derived from patients with spinal cord injury, juvenile diabetes and genetic immunodeficiency. Dr. Hwang’s group in Seoul remains the only place in the world where these NT-hESC lines have ever been made. Dr. Hwang’s group is sharing these lines, teaching other scientists and proposing ways in which their discoveries can help medical researchers globally. Last month, plans for a World Stem Cell hub were announced in Korea. Dr. Schatten was to have been appointed chairman of the Board of Directors for this proposed international endeavor.
Dr. Schatten issued the following statement citing his reasons for his decision:“I believe in maintaining the highest ethical and scientific standards in research conduct and believe that all regulatory requirements not only must be met, but also exceeded. This is true for all medical research, especially so with the still nascent field of hESC investigation. Just after Prof. Hwang’s 2004 publication, allegations of oocyte donation irregularities were reported (Nature 429, 3; 06 May 2004), and then in a subsequent story (Science 304, 945; 14 May 2004) Korean officials refuted those allegations.
“Regrettably, yesterday information came to my attention suggesting that misrepresentations might have occurred relating to those oocyte donations. The nature of this information mandates confidentiality. I have contacted appropriate academic and regulatory agencies regarding this new information and accordingly, have suspended my collaborations with Prof. Hwang
"Compliance concerns with ethical practices for obtaining donated oocytes in their 2004 report, and the resultant breach of trust, are the issues that force me to make this decision.”
In a separate matter, but in the interest of full disclosure, Dr. Schatten stated that he also learned this week that there was an error in Table II of the Hwang et al., 05 paper. SCIENCE has been notified of the correction, and SCIENCE is processing this tabular correction through their normal procedures. Dr. Schatten says he has no reason to believe that this was anything but an honest mistake, yet mistakes once found need to be corrected in the scientific literature. He also does not think that it would have had an effect on the study’s conclusions.
Dr. Schatten cannot make further public comments on this matter but is working with all appropriate academic and regulatory bodies to ensure that valuable science is conducted under the highest ethical standards.