Spurred by the Obama administration’s lift on a previous ban on human embryonic stem cell research in the United State, South Korea is also lifting its ban, the JoongAng Daily. and AP report. Not everyone gets to do the research, though. The lucky research institute is the CHA Medical Center, which has the largest private stem cell research lab in Korea. Hwang Woo-suk, who was the only scientist allowed to do research on human embryos before he was stripped of his license a few years ago, will not be allowed to resume his research. Hwang currently does animal cloning research at a private lab that he founded after he was dismissed from his professorship at Seoul National University.
Korea’s decision to allow research on the cloning of human stem cells was not surprising, especially amidst a lot of public discussion about re-opening research in the United States. Koreans have a very sentimental attachment to the study of embryonic human stem cell cloning that goes back to the days before Hwang was discovered to have faked his research. The story of Hwang Woo-suk’s spectacular rise (and equally spectacular fall) is unique in terms of the role Korean nationalism played in it. It occurred at a time when Korea was seeking a new economic business model and the United States had banned research on human embryos, giving Korea an opening to become a world leader. And while previous science frauds were usually detected and played out largely within the science community, the Hwang case was different in that the Korean media not only made Hwang a celebrity even before his work was published in a major scientific paper, but it also conducted the in-depth investigation that led to his demise.
Now, however, it doesn’t look like Hwang will be playing a role in any future human stem cell research. For the meantime, anyway.