- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 18, 2005


Scientists in South Korea will help their American colleagues create new lines of embryonic stem cells in an unusual partnership in the contentious field, researchers in both countries announced yesterday.

For the Americans, the international consortium, which includes Britain, presents another avenue for working around the Bush administration’s refusal to fund most of the research. For the South Koreans, the project brings coveted international recognition of their leadership in the field.

“I think this effort points out that science is done on a global scale,” said Dr. George Daley, of Children’s Hospital in Boston, who hopes to participate in the project. “We can establish restrictions here in the United States, but the science moves forward in other countries.”

The World Stem Cell Foundation will be led by pioneering stem-cell biologist Hwang Woo-suk at Seoul National University. It will open its first branches in the United States and Britain, Mr. Hwang said in an Associated Press interview before the announcement.

“When the use of these stem cells is limited to a particular country, it takes much too long to create technologies usable for the whole humanity,” Mr. Hwang said. “By creating a global network, we plan to share stem cells created in each country and share information on those stem cells.”

The South Koreans are working closely with Dr. Gerald Schatten, a cell biologist at the University of Pittsburgh. He dismissed moral criticism of the destruction of embryos, comparing stem-cell science to the organ donation process, which now is accepted.

“We hope that the same thing will happen here,” he was quoted as saying in a staff-written commentary for this week’s New England Journal of Medicine.

Many scientists are aching to accelerate research on embryonic stem cells, which can grow into all the other tissues in the body. The cells are seen as a potential source of replacement tissue for people with a variety of ailments.

However, because embryos are destroyed in the process, the Bush administration forbids government funding of the experiments.

The technique favored by the Koreans is even more morally charged: Instead of using embryos left over from in vitro fertilization, they create them from cloned skin cells. That process is favored by some scientists because cloning can create a perfect tissue match for sick patients, but critics say it condones creating human life for laboratory research.

The Korean-led consortium hopes to create about 100 cell lines per year with genetic defects that cause such diseases as diabetes, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, AIDS, Lou Gehrig’s, and sickle cell anemia, said specialists familiar with the project.

Researchers then would study how these cells develop into diseased tissues.

More than 125 stem-cell lines have been reported around the world, taken mostly from donated embryos. The U.S. government allows funding only for work on old cell lines, developed before August 2001.

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