HWANG
Ahn Young-joon  /  AP
South Korean cloning pioneer Hwang Woo-suk speaks during an interview with The Associated Press at his office in Seoul, June 1. Hwang said he plans to open a world stem cell bank by the end of this year.
updated 6/1/2005 3:36:45 PM ET 2005-06-01T19:36:45

South Korean cloning pioneer Hwang Woo-suk said Wednesday he plans to open a stem cell bank by the end of the year to help speed up the quest to grow replacement tissue to treat diseases.

The bank would consolidate current stem cell lines in one research location. To treat a patient, researchers would look for a cell line that provides a close match to a patient’s immune system, Hwang said in an interview with The Associated Press. It would resemble the process now used in finding donors for organ transplants.

“We hope to open a world stem cell bank, as early as this year, in Korea,” Hwang said. “We will start with what we have, offering them to those patients who sincerely want them for the right reasons.”

Hwang said he was willing to eventually put the bank under the management of an international agency.

“But, it would mean that South Korea is taking the initiative in fighting human disease,” he said.

Hwang and his researchers at Seoul National University created the first embryonic stem cells that genetically match injured or sick patients, work that was published in the journal Science last month. That came just a year after his team shocked the world by cloning a human embryo.

The match means the stem cells, the building blocks of all bodily tissues, are unlikely to be rejected by the body’s immune system. Researchers hope the cells can be used to repair damage caused by ailments such as spinal cord injuries, diabetes or a genetic immune disease.

Hwang now wants to move his research into making embryonic stem cells grow into specific organs and tissues.

Center of international controversy
The publication of Hwang’s work has made him one of South Korea’s busiest and the most celebrated figures, his image gracing newspaper articles and television shows almost daily. His team is notorious for working long hours without weekends or holidays and even sleeping in the lab, but late Wednesday afternoon he found time to talk with a reporter about his project’s current status and long-term goals.

Hwang’s work is at the center of an international controversy over whether to ban all forms of human cloning or to allow it for medical research — known as therapeutic cloning — which South Korea has committed by law to pursue.

Culling stem cells destroys the days-old embryo harboring them, regardless of whether it was cloned or left over in a fertility clinic. Opponents, including President Bush, argue that is the same as destroying life. He has banned federal funding for research on all but a handful of old embryonic stem-cell lines.

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Hwang knows he’s treading on sensitive territory and rebutted critics who say he is destroying life.

“What we are doing is not creating embryos. An embryo, basically supposes a birth of a life. But we have no intention or goals whatsoever to create life,” said Hwang. “When the genetic material is removed from human egg, it becomes a vacant egg shell, I would like to call it that.”

Ultimately, though, Hwang said he was a scientist and not a politician.

“Our ultimate goal is for those with incurable disease to lead social lives, and to recover their humane right to happiness.”

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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