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Korean cloning expert cautions on Bush policy

david ( 05/30/2005, 02:46:38 )

RPT-EXCLUSIVE-S.Korea cloning expert cautions on Bush policy 30 May 2005 00:23:02 GMTSource: ReutersBy Jon Herskovitz and Jack KimSEOUL, May 29 (Reuters) - The Bush administration's reluctance to fully support stem cell research is impeding U.S. research that has the potential to make major medical breakthroughs, South Korea's top cloning expert said on Sunday.Woo-Suk Hwang, the head of a team of South Korean scientists who cloned the first human embryo to use for research said in an interview with Reuters that stem cell science will advance because of its enormous potential, and will not be halted by political interests."The scientific effort to resolve the pain of patients with incurable conditions is very honourable, and I believe no mere individual politician or party can stop the historic trend," Hwang said at his laboratory at Seoul National University."Solving these problems is a common responsibility of humanity," he said.Earlier this month, Hwang's team made news around the world for its research that fulfilled one of the basic promises of cloning technology in stem cell research -- that a piece of skin could be taken from a patient to grow stem cells with that patient's specific genetic material.Researchers believe that the cells one day could be used to provide individually tailored tissue and organ transplants, as well as curing maladies such as juvenile diabetes and Parkinson's disease, or to repair severe spinal cord injuries.Last week, U.S. President George W. Bush expressed concern about Hwang's research and threatened to veto legislation that would loosen restrictions on U.S. government funding of embryonic stem cell research."I'm very concerned about cloning," Bush said last Friday. "I worry about a world in which cloning would be acceptable."PECULIAR POLICYHwang said he had respect for Bush's views for their theological and political values, but he said they also represent a "peculiar policy" that hampers U.S. research."With all the great scientists and the great potential of the United States ... if because of some policy hurdle, the researchers cannot realise their dreams, I believe, as a fellow scientist this would be very regrettable," Hwang said.Some religious groups oppose embryonic stem cell research, saying to destroy an embryo to harvest the stem cells is akin to abortion. Stem cells are primitive cells that have the ability to transform themselves into many other types of cells."The research by Professor Hwang's team is a kind of experimentation on live humans who have no power to protect themselves," the Korean Christian Bioethics Association said in a statement on the weekend.Hwang said that he was not cloning human embryos, but using eggs harvested from human females to create cells that can never become an actual human being."I firmly reject the term human cloning," Hwang said. "This is a scientific activity called somatic nuclear cell transfer, and in no part does it involve the physiological process of fertilisation of eggs by sperm."In the nuclear transfer technology, a nucleus is removed from an egg cell, and replaced with the nucleus of the person or animal to be cloned, and then fused. The egg begins dividing, as if it had been fertilised, and sometimes becomes an embryo.Some bioethics specialists said that Hwang's lab is not creating humans. "There is no reason to believe one of those things could ever become a human being," wrote David Magnus and Mildred Cho in a commentary for the Stanford University Center for Biomedical Ethics in California.THE PATIENT COMES FIRSTHwang would like to keep the science on stem cell research open and global, saying that greater international cooperation will lead to more effective results, more quickly.For him, the ethical consideration should weigh heavily in favour of a patient suffering from a disease or malady now considered incurable -- as opposed to the stem cells he creates in the lab."Let's say we have a microproduct just 100 micrometers long, made through nuclear transfer technology, and let's say we have a human being who has lived in pain all his life," Hwang said. "To argue that there is a balance (in considering the humanity of the two) would not be ethical."Hwang thinks his work could help open a new chapter in medical treatment by potentially creating individualised cells to treat maladies for which they may be no cure today."I dare believe this breakthrough will be a factor that will bring in a new era in medical history," Hwang said. (With additional reporting by Kim Yoo-chul)

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