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Posted : 2011-11-16 18:55
Updated : 2011-11-16 18:55

Korean scientist aims to clone human stem cells by 2015


Prof. Park Se-pill
By Kim Tae-gyu

Professor Park Se-pill at Jeju National University is striving to clone human embryonic stem cells by 2015, the much-touted breakthrough that no scientists have ever achieved.

The embryologist plans to start cloning human embryos and establishing stem cell batches from them beginning next year.

"Recently, the government approved Jeju National University as eligible to conduct human embryonic studies. We now need to get separate okays for specific research projects," Park said.

"We will be able to start the work on human embryonic stem cells next year with the aim of finishing them by 2015. It will be tough as nobody has achieved it yet but we will do our best."

What Park is trying to do is exactly the same as what Hwang Woo-suk, a former professor at Seoul National University, claimed to have done — though the purported feat later proved to be false.

Hwang stole the spotlight in the mid 2000s when two papers on the human embryonic stem cells were published as cover-story articles by the U.S. journal Science.

The exploits were expected to bring possible treatments for degenerative diseases such as diabetes but his work was found to be based on fabricated data and his team actually did not extract stem cells from the cloned human embryos.

"In fact, things are much difficult now compared to when Hwang carried out his research because we are now not allowed to use fresh eggs to duplicate embryos," Park said.

"Instead, we have to depend on frozen eggs so that the success rate will be very low as amply demonstrated in animal experiments. We need to fix this problem."

Experiments with fresh ova were strictly prohibited after Hwang's data was found to be doctored. As a result, ethical debate erupted on the usage of fresh ova, prompting the Seoul administration to ban it.

As a result, human embryonic researchers have to thaw frozen ova, typically leftovers after artificial insemination.

Park contended that Korea also should lift restrictions on fresh ova following the United States and the United Kingdom to become a powerhouse in the embryonic research whose therapeutic potential is highly regarded.

Park stole the international limelight in 2000 by taking out human stem cell lines, not from cloned embryos but from ordinary embryos, for the third time in history.

Presently, he is considered one of the top embryologists in Korea, in particular in the knowhow of the freeze-and-thaw process, the procedures of making frozen ova come to life.

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