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Bioethics Committee to Rule on Stem Cell Research

Posted February. 06, 2009 00:53,   


The National Bioethics Committee will review today a research project on the creation of embryonic stem cells using a technique called somatic-cell nuclear transfer, which has been submitted by Cha Medical Center, in a plenary meeting.

The research involving cloned human embryos grinded to a halt in Korea after March 2006, when then Seoul National University professor Hwang Woo-suk admitted to fabricating his research results and the ensuing cancellation of his work.

The review is thus drawing keen attention to whether such research will be resumed.

In March last year, the medical center submitted its research plan to develop embryonic stem cell lines for therapeutic cloning to the Health, Welfare and Family Affairs Ministry. Aiming to cure incurable diseases such as Parkinson’s, stroke, spinal impairment, diabetes and myocardial infarction, the project is almost identical to Hwang’s and the second of its kind to be conducted by domestic researchers.

Hwang also asked the ministry to allow similar research in December 2007 but was rejected in August last year after the committee judged him ethically unqualified.

What decision the committee will make on Cha’s project is anyone’s guess, however.

A ministry official painted a positive outlook by saying, “Chung Hyung-min, president of Cha Biotech and the lead researcher of the project, poses no ethical problems. So the committee will likely to give the green light.”

“I understand that Health Minister Jeon Jae-hee also supports the project.”

Getting permission is not expected to be easy, however, since many committee members who place life ethics above all else oppose the research. Seven of the committee’s 20 members stress bioethics.

The committee is also under direct control of the president.

As the committee’s decision is expected to trigger huge ramifications, the plenary meeting will be held in the strictest secrecy in downtown Seoul.

Any research using human embryonic stem cells first needs permission from the ministry. No researcher in the world has extracted embryonic stem cells from cloned human embryos, however.