By Kim Tong-hyung
Researchers at disgraced gene scientist Hwang Woo-suk's Sooam Biotech Research Center claimed they have for the first time created cloned pig embryos and used them to make embryonic stem-cell lines.
Scientists have successfully extracted stem cells from cloned primate embryos, as described in a study on monkeys published in the peer-review journal, Nature, in 2007.
However, this marks the first time that stem cells have been created from the cloned embryos of a pig, and the findings could contribute to developing techniques to extract stem cells from cloned human embryos, Sooam officials said.
Hyun Sang-hwan, Hwang's key colleague at Sooam, told The Korea Times that the study will be reported in Zygote, a peer-review journal published by Cambridge University, in two or three months. Hyun declined to comment on how many stem-cell lines were produced or the techniques used in the study, citing confidentiality.
``We believe the research has significant meaning, as we established the process and techniques of creating stem cell lines from the cloned embryos of pigs,'' said Hyun, who said the Zygote paper was based on experiments in 2007.
``Unlike Hwang's past studies on cloned human stem cells, where he was involved until the process of creating cloned blastocysts and had researchers from Mizmedi Hospital extract the stem cells, Hwang was involved in the whole process from start to finish. He was determined to quieten any doubts about his skills and knowledge as a scientist.''
Hwang, then as a Seoul National University (SNU) researcher, achieved rare rock star status as a scientist in 2004, when his research team claimed it had successfully cloned a human embryo and produced stem cells from it, a technique they said could open new opportunities to provide cures for a range of diseases. The following year, Hwang's team claimed to have created patient-specific stem cells from cloned embryos, then regarded as an even greater achievement.
But Hwang's reputation was left in tatters after an SNU panel exposed both studies as fraudulent the following year, which led to his dismissal from the school. Since then, Hwang has been leading his own research at Sooam's lab in Yongin, Gyeonggi Province.
Hyun said the study on cloned pig stem cells will mark the starting point of Hwang's comeback. He said that Hwang's team at Sooam has so far produced 14 papers on various cloning studies, some of them currently under review for publication in peer-review journals such as Nature, and is involved in various research projects pursuing the possibilities of therapeutic cloning, including a study on cloning beagles.