A Korean company tries to short circuit bans on cloning and stem-cells
LIFE IS TOUGH for the stalwart pioneers on biotechnology's cutting edge. "U.S. scientists studying human embryonic stem cells face unprecedented political, regulatory, and financial barriers," Dr. Susan Okie, M.D. complained last week in the New England Journal of Medicine. The "national debate over the ethics of such research" has so chilled the scientific atmosphere, she believes, that "the most promising method of making patient-specific and disease-specific stem cell lines"--meaning, human therapeutic cloning--"is not yet being performed in the United States."
But, she reports, help is on the way. The World Stem Cell Foundation, the brainchild of Woo-Suk Hwang, the South Korean creator of the first human cloned embryos, plans to skirt legal restrictions and the public's widespread moral disapproval of human cloning, which many scientists blame for hindering stem-cell science.
The Foundation's plan is to identify the few places that are overtly friendly to human cloning for biomedical research, such as South Korea, the United Kingdom, and California. Then, specially trained South Korean cloning technicians would travel to these areas and clone human embryos to order, destroy them, and derive cloned embryonic stem cell lines. These would then be sent back to Korea for quality control and proliferation. The resulting tailor-made cells would be sold throughout the world, especially to scientists in countries such as France, Australia, Norway, and Canada (and states such as Michigan and Iowa) that ban all human cloning but do not explicitly prohibit research on cloned embryonic stem cells.
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