The government said Wednesday it will give an extra $1 million in funding to a South Korean cloning pioneer, a week after he stunned the world with another breakthrough in stem-cell research.
Hwang Woo-suk made headlines last week when he created the world’s first embryonic stem cells that genetically match injured or sick patients — a major step in the quest to grow patients’ own replacement tissue to treat diseases.
Hwang’s latest work, published in the journal Science, came just a year after his team at Seoul National University shocked the world by cloning a human embryo.
To the envy of many scientists abroad, Hwang already receives full government support. The South Korean government provides $2 million in pure research funds to Hwang’s team, and $24.4 million in facility assistance for stem-cell and related research.
The government said Wednesday it will provide an extra $1 million this year and yet more next year if needed, according to a statement from the Ministry of Science and Technology.
The government has also decided to better manage property rights to Hwang’s work and tighten control on possible leaks, the statement said. Police are guarding Hwang’s residence around the clock and provide him with a full escort when he goes out.
Hwang’s work is at the center of an international debate over whether to ban all forms of human cloning or to allow it for medical research — known as therapeutic cloning — which South Korea has committed by law to pursue.
Culling stem cells destroys the days-old embryo harboring them, regardless of whether it was cloned or left over in a fertility clinic. Opponents, including President Bush, argue that is the same as destroying life. He has banned federal funding for research on all but a handful of old embryonic stem-cell lines.
But Bush’s stance has been challenged in Congress, with senators who support embryonic stem-cell research pushing for a quick vote on a bill passed by the House that would lift 2001 restrictions on such studies. Bush on Tuesday called the bill “a mistake.”
Hwang said Wednesday he was “grateful and happy” for his government’s continued support.
“The measures announced today are much more detailed and comprehensive than I had expected,” Hwang was quoted as saying by Yonhap news agency. “I am thankful and happy.”
Hwang noted it would be “just a matter of time until everyone understands” the importance of stem-cell research and “the road to take is already set.”