Nobel For The Asking

The South Korean government was as good as its word. They began pouring millions into Hwang's chronically underfunded lab. Hwang was also given round-the-clock security and free travel on Korea's national airline. Thanks in part to this government largess, Dr. Hwang's ambition was realized: to create a world-class center for embryonic cellular research—one that could provide scientists around the world with embryonic stem cells.

This facility, called the World Stem Cell Hub, opened in mid-October 2005 to mass international fanfare. Aside from its purpose as a research center, it was also marketed as a potential source of replacement tissue for people suffering from diseases ranging from kidney failure to heart disease. The adoring public's response was, unsurprisingly, tremendous. According to the research center, on the first day that patient applications were accepted over 3,500 responses were received through phone, fax, Internet, or even in person.

The acclaim grew to proportions that many might consider outrageous. Despite the fact that all but the most basic medical advances using stem cells were speculative at best, the South Korean government didn't blink at printing a postage stamp in Hwang's

1. Unfortunately for the publisher, the book was released on December 20, 2005. This was just a few days after Seoul National University started to probe work produced by Hwang's team after two collaborators said a paper they published in May 2005 was based on fabricated data. Understandably, the market for these books quickly bottomed out in light of the events that came to light.

honor. The stamp in question showed a figure leaping out of a wheelchair.

The story just got better and better as time went by. Hwang was not only a great scientist but a good man. Stories painted him as a visionary genius, a sort of combination Jonas Salk and Captain Kirk, helped in his quest to heal humanity by a dedicated and tireless laboratory staff who venerated him. Hwang, ever the benevolent manager, was described in one book as foregoing his ability to fly first-class and instead stay in the economy class so that more of his junior researchers could travel with him.

With such overwhelmingly positive press, there was no shortage of funding, no gap in the feeling that miracles were just waiting around the next corner. Volunteers arrived at the World Stem Cell Hub almost daily, offering themselves as research subjects. By all accounts, Dr. Hwang looked like a shoo-in for Nobel Prize nomination, even a strong candidate for winning.

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