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Then the field took a big blow this month when stem cell leader Woo Suk Hwang, at Seoul National University in South Korea, announced he wanted to retract a landmark paper published in Science in May. In the paper, Hwang and colleagues said they had efficiently created 11 lines of stem cells perfectly matched to 11 patients with different diseases. The findings were hailed as a huge leap forward for the clinical potential of stem cells.

Those findings came into doubt in December amid allegations of ethical and scientific misconduct. On December 23, an investigative panel from Seoul National University released a preliminary report concluding that Hwang faked at least some of his research. Hwang subsequently resigned his position, but he has maintained that the science behind his work was real. (Technologyreview.com will publish a story in January exploring the implications of this controversy for stem cell research in the United States.)

Cloning Cats and Dogs

In 2005, the cost of a cloned cat dropped from $50,000 to the “bargain” price of $32,000. Genetic Savings and Clone, the world’s first pet cloning company, based in Sausalito, CA, provides this controversial service to people who have lost “an exceptional pet” ’ (see Briefcase: Genetic Savings and Clone: No Pet Project, March). GSC’s early success was up in the air in 2002 – after its first cloned cat turned out to look nothing like her donor, a calico. (Unlike other cats, a calico’s coat color is not entirely genetically determined.) But the company has forged ahead. GSC sold its second cloned kitten, Little Gizmo, in February, and was able to lower the price tag by switching to a more efficient cloning technology. The company assures prospective customers that their two current clients have been satisfied by the likeness of their newly fabricated felines.

Unfortunately, pet owners longing to clone their dogs will have to wait. Canine cloning presents an entirely new set of obstacles: dogs produce eggs infrequently, and those that are produced are too immature to use directly in the cloning process. While GSC had hoped to overcome these challenges and create a cloned dog in 2005, they may – or may not – have been beaten to the punch by Woo Suk Hwang, the same Korean stem cell researcher accused of faking the research behind a Science paper on human stem cell lines (see above). In August, Hwang’s group published a paper in Nature announcing the creation of Snuppy, purportedly the world’s first cloned dog. However, the pooch’s status as a clone is now in serious doubt.

GSC is still working on canine cloning. “We think there’s a reasonably good chance we’ll succeed this coming year,” says Ben Carlson, a company spokesperson.

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Tagged: Biomedicine

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