Revitalizing stem cell researchStem cell research, which has been underwater for the last seven years, has cautiously resurfaced. The Korean health authorities on Monday conditionally approved a four-year project by a private university to conduct human embryonic stem cell research. It is aimed at treating damaged cells and tissue using stem cells taken from donated embryos.
The Ministry of Health and Welfare gave approval to a medical team led by CHA University in Pocheon, Gyeonggi. The research will involve nearly 600 donated human eggs. The university will be resuming the research after failing in the reproduction stage during the first trial licensed in 2009.
Two years ago, the university team was successful with research using a fresh egg in the United States, but the research did not progress in Korea out of fear of damaging the egg and stoking controversy against human cloning. The university hopes to use stem cell lines derived from somatic cell cloning embryos to treat patients suffering from optic nerve damage, stroke and osteochondral defects.
This is welcome news for scientists of stem cell research, which had come to a full stop after a celebrated local cloning pioneer, Hwang Woo-suk, was found to have fabricated his stem cell lines and research results in late 2005.
Korea’s science community faced a setback and has never recovered since then. The latest research will be closely watched as a breakthrough in stem cell research, which would bring great hope for people suffering pain and damage from heart attacks and severed spinal cords.
But to sustain life in the research, strong ethical discipline must be upheld throughout the research and development course. Human cloning is still highly controversial in society. The research must face strict and transparent scrutiny around the legitimacy of the eggs. The research must be administered under ethics rules. The university must demonstrate strong will and ethical standards to live up to both scientific and moral expectations. The government and science community should work together to establish ethical research practices.
JoongAng Ilbo, July 13, Page 30