Woo Suk Hwang - head of the team that announced the creation of 11 patient-specific embryonic stem cell (ES cell)-lines recently - is planning to open an international stem cell bank in South Korea. The bank would mean that all existing human ES cell-lines would be in one place, enabling doctors to identify cells that match their patients' immune systems. Hwang's work has made him famous, both in his own country and around the world. Last week, the Genetics and Policy Institute (GPI) announced that he would receive its first Global Achievement Award in recognition of his research.
Many scientists believe that ES cells - the body's master cells that can grow into almost any type of body tissue - hold the key to new therapies for diseases such as diabetes and Parkinson's disease, as well as spinal cord injuries. So-called 'therapeutic cloning' research aims to derive patient-specific ES cell lines, both to study the disease process and possibly to develop tissue-matched, cell-based treatments. It involves replacing the genetic material of an unfertilised egg with that of a body cell, and then using a chemical trigger to make the resulting cell divide and multiply.
Last year, the Korean team reported that they had created one cloned ES cell line from 30 cloned embryos, after more than 200 tries. This time, the scientists managed to create 11 cell lines from 31 cloned embryos, using just 185 eggs. The team made the ES cell lines using skin cells from nine patients with spinal injuries, a two-year-old boy with a genetic immune disorder and a six-year-old girl with type 1 diabetes. Now, Hwang says he wants to use these cell lines to start a stem cell bank, 'offering them to those patients who sincerely want them for the right reasons'. He added that he was willing, eventually, to put the bank under the management of an international agency.
The South Korean team's work has attracted criticism, because it involves the destruction of human embryos. The Catholic Church of South Korea has condemned the research as 'exploitation of human life'. But Hwang stresses that his goal is treatment, saying that 'we have no intention or goals whatsoever to create life'. He explained that 'when the genetic material is removed from human egg, it becomes a vacant egg shell. I would like to call it that'. Hwang said that he is a scientist, not a politician, and concludes that 'our ultimate goal is for those with incurable diseases to lead social lives, and to recover their humane right to happiness'.
The GPI, a stem cell research advocacy group based in the US, will present Hwang with his achievement award at a meeting this weekend. The 'Stem Cell Policy and Advocacy Summit: Sustaining the Mandate for Cures' conference will be held at the Baylor College of Medicine on 11-12 June. In a press release, the GPI said: 'The Global Achievement Award goes to the individual who has made the greatest worldwide contribution in the field of stem cells and regenerative medicine'. It described Hwang's accomplishments as 'breathtaking' and 'a quantum leap in efficacy'.
Sources and References
Woo Suk Hwang to receive global achievment award
Hwang Hopes to Open World Stem Cell Bank