December was a really bad month for Embryonic stem cell research pioneer Hwang Woo-suk. Dr. Hwang is the cloning superstar who was riding the express train to the Nobel Prize until several weeks ago. He received Time magazine’s invention of the year award for his cloned puppy and earlier last month he won Scientific American’s researcher of the year award. What's that all about? Why the rush to enshrine Embryonic stem cell research types? What if you get a bogus result?
A bit of background: In early 2004, Hwang produced the world’s first human embryonic stem cells from cloned human embryos. He faced a huge uproar a few weeks ago over the fact his research eggs were supplied by his subordinates - a no-no in the medical community because of the appearance or reality of coercion. And then there were the confirmed rumors that still other women were paid for their ova.
In May, Hwang’s team published proof it developed the world’s first human embryonic stem cells tailored to match the DNA of individuals. Late last month, after weeks of heavy speculation, the news came out that the study was fraudulent. Nothing but smoke and mirrors!
In short, A panel investigating Mr. Hwang’s stem cell cloning study discovered that he had produced 11 lines of apparently-cloned stem cells through a technique that bypassed the cloning process, and simply placed two sets of cells in separate test tubes, with one set labeled as “cloned cells.”
For the religious groups, the key question seems to be whether or not to consider embryonic stem cells, upon which Hwang’s cloning experiments, are based, as living entities. The three main religions that oppose Hwang’s research define stem cells as living creatures and therefore the destruction of stem cells for scientific purposes could be equivalent to murder.
Further, it is important to distinguish between stem cell research in general and embryonic stem cell research. We don’t want to give the impression that those who oppose research that requires the destruction of human embryos oppose the larger field.
Scientists are constantly making head way in research to locate non-embryonic sources of stem cells, such as in umbilical cord blood and even skin. It is true that adult stem cell research is even now saving lives. This research continues to suffice nicely for those who want the benefits of stem cell research without traversing difficult ethical questions about using embryos.