Patent effect

Of bogus stem cell research

Published: Tuesday 28 February 2006

about the therapeutic potential of stem cells have suffered a setback with the revelation that a technique used for fraudulent research by Woo Suk Hwang of South Korea may still be granted a patent.

"As long as an invention is not contrary to scientific laws -- like time travel -- research has no bearing on the grant of a patent," says a patent official from the uk. Patent examiners are not interested in whether something will work or not, which will have to be judged by the commercial world, he adds. This is likely to create a problem for future patents on stem cell technology. Even if the patent is not granted, the fact that it has been published makes it prior information, which others cannot patent.

The Seoul National University (snu), where Hwang worked, had filed the patent application for the broad concept of an embryonic stem cell line derived from a cloned human embryo, on December 30, 2003, staking a claim in over 120 countries. This technique can lead to patient-specific stem cell lines and therapies for diseases such as cancer and diabetes. The university has decided not to withdraw the patent but might make some changes in the application, reveals a university official.

Though Hwang's research was published in the reputed journal Science, complaints by some scientists led to an enquiry, which revealed that the research was bogus. The enquiry report, published on January 10, 2006, says that the data showing that stem cells had been derived from cloned embryos was cooked up. It seems that the researcher had used normal cells instead of cloning them. Science retracted Hwang's paper after the fraud came to light.

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