South Korea's top court rejects appeal by disgraced stem cell scientist

SEOUL (AFP) - South Korea's top court on Thursday upheld a suspended jail term on a disgraced scientist whose claims of stem-cell breakthroughs rocked the scientific world until his research was found to be fake.

The Supreme Court's ruling wrapped up an eight-year legal battle by Hwang Woo Suk, who was convicted of embezzling research funds and of ethical lapses in obtaining human eggs for experiments.

Hwang, 61, had received a two-year sentence, suspended for three years, in 2009. A year later, an appeals court reduced the penalty, imposing an 18-month sentence suspended for two years.

The Supreme Court upheld the appeal court's decision, ruling that Hwang should be punished for undermining the credibility of the scientific world with faked research.

"He should be punished for causing damage to the entire scientific world," it said in its verdict.

Hwang shot to fame in 2004 when he published a paper in the US journal Science claiming to have created the world's first stem-cell line from a cloned human embryo.

In a follow-up paper in the same journal, he maintained that his team had developed 11 patient-specific embryonic stem-cell lines.

The claims raised hopes of new treatments for diseases such as cancer, diabetes and Parkinson's.

The government showered Hwang and his team from the prestigious Seoul National University (SNU) with money and honours, and Hwang was awarded the title of "Supreme Scientist".

But his reputation was tarnished later by allegations that he had violated medical ethics by accepting human eggs from his own researchers.

In early 2006 an SNU investigative team ruled in a report that his findings were faked and said he had produced no stem cells of any kind.

He was charged later that year.

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