Misadventures in Cloning
Woo-Suk Hwang's American collaborator.
Feb 6, 2006, Vol. 11, No. 20 • By PAMELA R. WINNICK
Last year, for the first time, Schatten took his high-level seminar on stem cells to Stanford, in the wake of Proposition 71, the measure by which California voters allocated $3 billion for human embryonic stem cell research. Schatten told the Sacramento Bee in June, "I wanted to run a course at a place where people would be sitting on the edges of their seats, knowing that they had a constitutional right to do the most exciting medical research out there."
The title of the seminar was "Frontiers in Human Embryonic Stem Cells." As Schatten told the Bee, "When we say 'frontiers,' we mean all of the frontiers: scientific and medical frontiers, also the religious frontier, the legal frontier, the financial frontier and the career frontier and the political frontier. You can just go on and on."
Schatten's present predicament is not his first brush with professional embarrassment. While he was a researcher at the University of Wisconsin in 1994, a fertility clinic at the University of California, Irvine, supplied him with human eggs that had been illegally extracted without the women's consent. An investigation by the University of Wisconsin determined that Schatten had been provided fraudulent documents certifying the provenance of the eggs, and he was cleared of any wrongdoing.
Acutely conscious of its public image, the University of Pittsburgh has named a mostly in-house team to examine Schatten's relationship with Hwang, including the Snuppy article. Five of the six members of the committee are Pittsburgh professors. Still, a spokeswoman says its findings will be made public.
A second investigation has been launched by the National Institutes of Health to make sure that none of its $6.4 million grant to Schatten for animal cloning was used in violation of the ban on federal funding of human cloning. Hwang's human-cloning work was funded by South Korea.
Says spokesman Don Ralbovsky, "NIH has initiated a review of activity related to NIH-supported research conducted at the Magee-Women's Research Institute (MWRI) in order to ensure that federal regulations and policies were followed and correctly reported. MWRI is providing additional information to NIH at this time. We cannot have any further comment until the process is completed."
Meanwhile, life goes on for Schatten. He recently sold his $600,000 home in the upscale, Breezewood section of Pittsburgh, but calls to his office suggest that he remains at the hospital. He is scheduled to be the keynote speaker this April at a meeting of the American Society of Andrology, although at least one colleague has urged that he be disinvited. The announced subject of his talk was recently changed--from human embryonic stem cells to assisted reproduction.
Pamela R. Winnick, an attorney and former reporter for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, is the author of A Jealous God: Science's Crusade Against Religion.