By Cho Jin-seo
Disgraced cloning scientist Hwang Woo-suk is seeking partnership with foreign biotech companies to continue his human stem cell research outside Korea, multiple sources said on Sunday.
Hwang is staying in Thailand at the invitation of local institutions and is considering forming a research consortium with foreign biomedical companies, a government official was quoted as saying by Yonhap News Agency on the condition of anonymity. The Joongang Ilbo newspaper also reported that Hwang left Korea on Friday and is talking with a prominent U.S. biomedical company while he is abroad, citing an aide to the former Seoul National University veterinary professor.
``Hwang believes that it is difficult to continue stem cell research in South Korea because it is hard to obtain ova,'' the government official said. ``He is considering participating in an international consortium so he can continue his research abroad where conditions are more favorable to cloning researchers than here.''
If he joins such an international consortium, he will be shuttling between his laboratory in South Korea and an overseas facility, the media reports said.
Hwang was considered one of the pioneering experts in the human and animal cloning field until much of the data shown in his internationally published papers were found to be fabricated, in 2005. The university expelled him and the government rescinded its financial and legal support. While being charged with fraud and embezzlement, he has kept a low profile at the Suam Bioengineering Research Institute in Yongin, Gyeonggi Province, where he is officially engaged in animal cloning.
The government barred Hwang from conducting human cloning research. But his supporters - many of them being patients suffering from chronic diseases and their families - have insisted that the former Seoul University professor unwittingly committed technical mistakes and that the government should give him another chance.
``Last time there were some problems in the nurturing process of the cells at Mizmedi Hospital. But there is no doubt that he will succeed in cloning the stem cell this time, since his team will have the world's best technicians to do the job,'' a source was quoted as saying by Joongang.
It also said that Hwang will clone embryonic cells by transferring cell nuclei, and U.S. researchers will then develop them to fully-grown stem cells. Stem cells have the potential to transform into various types of human body cells, meaning they can be utilized as a ``repair kit'' for diseases.
The joint research of Hwang and the U.S. firm will mostly be conducted in a country other than South Korea or the United States since it is difficult to obtain ova in both countries, the paper said.