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South Korea ends moratorium on embryonic stem cell research

3 May 2009
Appeared in BioNews 506

South Korea's Presidential Committee on Bioethics has granted the first human embryonic stem cell (ES cell) research licence since their preeminent research scientist fell spectacularly from grace amidst allegations of scientific fraud and embezzlement, over three years ago. Cha Medical Center in the South Korean capital, Seoul, has been given the go-ahead for research into ES cell cloning, paving the way for renewed research into the treatment of various diseases, and drawing a line under the cloning scandal that rocked the international science community and damaged confidence in the efficacy of ES cell research, both in South Korea and beyond.

In 2005-2006, scientist and national hero Woo Suk Hwang, then working at the Seoul National University, was exposed for massive scientific fraud and breaches in ethical conduct, and has been on trial in Korea ever since. Eleven ES cell lines, alleged to have been genetically matched to patients, were fabricated by his team, following research that used eggs from paid donors and junior researchers. In addition, the team's claim to have created the world's first ES cell line from a cloned human embryo - an innovation that promised to revolutionise the field - was also faked. The revelations led to the closure of the World Stem Cell Hub in 2006, established to promote global efforts in stem cell research, particularly for incurable conditions like Type 1 diabetes and Parkinson's disease.

In 2008 the South Korean Health Ministry rejected a similar licence application by the Suam Biotech Research Foundation, a company owned by Hwang, because of his associations with it.

The new decision means that South Korean stem cell scientists, once considered the leaders in human ES cell research, will now be allowed to resume work on producing human stem cells through cloning, as long as it satisfies a number of stringent preconditions designed to maintain ethical and scientific integrity. These include primarily using lab animals, thus reducing the use of human eggs, renewing written permissions from human donors, and the establishment of an independent institutional review board that will scrutinise the research. Sensationalist claims of 'cures' on the basis of research results will also be banned. Each research proposal put forward by the Cha Medical Center will now be individually reviewed by the Ministry for Health, Welfare and Family Affairs, before being given final clearance.

Korea Conditionally Lifts Ban on Stem Cell Study
Korea Times |  29 April 2009
South Korea lifts ban on stem cell research
The Age |  30 April 2009
South Korea moves for first stem cell study
Reuters |  29 April 2009
10 October 2011 - by Dr Louisa Petchey 
US scientists have for the first time created 'personalised' human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) using a form of cloning. The result is a significant milestone on the route to using stem cell-based therapies but the researchers stress more work is to be done as genetic errors in the cells means they are not yet suitable for therapeutic use....
26 October 2009 - by Antony Starza-Allen 
A South Korean court has convicted disgraced stem cell scientist, Hwang Woo-Suk, of embezzling funds and purchasing human eggs for research, after a trial lasting over three years. Hwang was given a two-year sentence suspended for three years by the Seoul Central District Court last week...
1 September 2009 - by Nishat Hyder 
Disgraced scientist, Hwang Woo-suk found last Monday that he faces a possible four year jail term for alleged embezzlement, and the violation of Korean bioethics law....
4 December 2006 - by Heidi Nicholl 
Science, the journal which published fraudulent stem cell research by disgraced Korean scientist Woo Suk Hwang, has announced the results of a committee set up to review the editorial procedures that allowed the work to be published and to advise on how to avoid similar mistakes in...
20 August 2006 - by Heidi Nicholl 
Hwang Woo-Suk, the Korean scientist at the centre of the faked cloning scandal last year, has returned to the lab and resumed his research on animals. Hwang, who was sacked from his position at Seoul National University following the scandal, is thought to have secured private funding...
3 July 2006 - by Dr Jess Buxton 
South Korean stem cell scientist Woo Suk Hwang, currently facing charges of fraud and embezzlement, is set to resume animal cloning research as early as next month. Hwang, who could spend up to 10 years in prison if convicted, is going to set up a new...
18 May 2006 - by Dr Kirsty Horsey 
South Korean stem cell scientist Woo Suk Hwang has been formally prosecuted on charges of fraud and embezzlement - if convicted he could spend up to 10 years in prison. He was charged with accepting two billion won (about $2.1 million) in private donations based on his...
30 April 2006 - by BioNews 
The World Stem Cell Hub - set up last year at Seoul National University Hospital in South Korea - is the latest victim of the ongoing Korean stem cell and cloning saga. The hub, which was established to create 'a global network' of stem cell lines created in countries across the world...
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