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May 21, 2005

BehindTheMedspeak: Polished steel chopsticks are the secret of South Korea's world domination in human therapeutic cloning


The only way you'd find that out, though, is by reading to the very end of yesterday's Financial Times story by Clive Cookson, the paper's science editor.

And reading it online wouldn't have told you either: it was in the paper version but not the internet story.

Professor Hwang Woo–suk, the world's greatest human cloning scientist, told Cookson that the use of polished steel chopsticks in South Korea, instead of the wooden chopsticks used elsewhere in Asia, explains "the extraordinary dexterity" of his researchers.

Hwang is in the spotlight because of this past Thursday's electrifying report in Science magazine of the latest results from his lab.

He and and his colleagues succeeded in taking skin cells from patients suffering from spinal injuries, juvenile diabetes and congenital immune disease, then growing embryos which yielded stem cells containing only the genetic code of the skin cell donors.

The next step is to place these individualized stem cell lines back into the donors in the hope that they will differentiate into the tissues needing repair.

The crippled will indeed walk again and not that far into the future.

More from Hwang:

"Small children learn from their grandparents to pick up slippery corn or rice," he said, "and that is excellent background for micro–manipulation in the laboratory."

The Koreans work 365 days a year — 366 in leap years — and begin work at 6:30 a.m. every day (8 a.m. on Sundays).


That's what it's all about.

I will admit I do not begin at 6:30 a.m. though I do work 365 days a year — 366 in leap years.

Here's Cookson's story as it appeared online.

    South Korea’s 'Giant Step’ in Human Cell Cloning

    Scientists have cloned embryos for the first time from patients with serious diseases and injuries.

    The research at Seoul National University in South Korea demonstrates the principle of "therapeutic cloning" producing stem cells genetically identical to the patient, which could repair damaged or diseased tissue.

    Hwang Woo-suk, the study leader, called it "a giant step forward towards the day when some of mankind's most devastating diseases and injuries can be effectively treated through the use of therapeutic stem cells".

    The results, published online on Thursday by the journal Science, illustrate the way Asian countries - China and Singapore as well as South Korea - have established a world lead in some areas of human stem cell science.

    In an interview, Prof Hwang said this is partly because of supportive political and social attitudes in Asia in contrast to the US and many European countries, where embryo research and therapeutic cloning are either banned or mired in controversy.

    The Korean team has made rapid technical progress since producing the world's first cloned human embryos early last year.

    Those embryos were clones of the same healthy young women who had donated 242 eggs to the study and the scientists cultured stem cells from only one embryo.

    In the new project they took eggs and DNA from different people.

    The resulting clones were from patients of both sexes, aged from 2 to 56, who were suffering from spinal injury, juvenile diabetes or a congenital immune disease.

    Starting with 185 donated eggs, they produced 31 embryos, 11 of which yielded stem cells.

    Independent scientists, who had expressed doubt about Prof Hwang's original study, acclaimed the latest results.

    "Some thought that his earlier success with cloning only worked because it used a woman's egg and the [ovarian] cells surrounding it," said Anne McLaren of Cambridge University.

    "But now: good news for men. Some of the cloned lines were derived from men's skin cells."

    All therapeutic cloning research uses "somatic cell nuclear transfer", the technique developed at the Roslin Institute in Scotland to produce Dolly the sheep.

    The Korean scientists transferred the nucleus from a patient's skin cell into a human egg whose own nucleus had been removed.

    The egg was then stimulated to develop into an early embryo.

    Cells were removed when the embryo was a microscopic ball six days old, and cultured with nutrients and growth factors to become a self-replicating "line" of stem cells.

    Prof Hwang said a key factor in his team's success was the availability of eggs from fertile donors, instead of ones left over from fertility treatment which some western research groups have tried to use.

    Speaking in London about his research, Prof Hwang warned people not to expect clinical applications in the near future.

May 21, 2005 at 09:01 AM | Permalink


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