President Lee Myung-bak said Monday South Korea will enact regulations to regain its place as a stem cell research frontrunner.
Just a decade ago, Korea took the lead in stem cell research in the world along with the United States, Lee said in a bi-weekly radio address.
“Unfortunately, there was a disappointing incident, which caused inevitable damage to the entire stem-cell research community in Korea, Lee said, referring to the scandal involving the prominent scientist Hwang Woo-suk.
Hwang was a professor of theriogenology and biotechnology at Seoul National University who became infamous for fabricating a series of experiments, which appeared in high-profile journals, in the field of stem cell research. Until November 2005, he was considered one of the pioneering experts in the field, best known for two articles published in the journal Science in 2004 and 2005, where he claimed to have succeeded in creating human embryonic stem cells by cloning.
In 2005, the team led by Hwang manipulated key data in its studies on cloning stem cells, sparking a fraud case that shook the global scientific community. Until then South Korea was considered a global leader in human embryonic stem cell research.
After to the scandal, South Korea all but put stem cell research to a halt.
The president also pledged to establish a national stem cell bank to produce, preserve and supply stem cells to researchers and establish a new system aimed at facilitating clinical and licensing procedures.
Stem cells are biological cells found in all multicellular organisms that can divide and differentiate into diverse specialized cell types and can self-renew to produce more stem cells. In mammals, there are two broad types of stem cells: embryonic stem cells, which are isolated from the inner cell mass of blastocysts, and adult stem cells, which are found in various tissues. In adult organisms, stem cells and progenitor cells act as a repair system for the body, replenishing adult tissues. In a developing embryo, stem cells can differentiate into all the specialized cells, but also maintain the normal turnover of regenerative organs, such as blood, skin, or intestinal tissues.
Stem cells can now be artificially grown and transformed into specialized cell types with characteristics consistent with cells of various tissues such as muscles or nerves through cell culture.