Cloning pioneer hopes to work with Baylor

Published: June 11, 2005  |  Source: houstonchronicle.com
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HOUSTON — South Korean stem cell pioneer Woo Suk Hwang says he wants to work with researchers at the Texas Medical Center, but federal law might make such a collaboration difficult.

Recently, Hwang and his researchers at Seoul National University created the first embryonic stem cells that genetically match injured or sick patients, work that was published in the journal Science last month. Last year, he created the world’s first cloned human embryo.

Speaking at a weekend summit on embryonic stem cells at Baylor College of Medicine, he said he would like to work more with researchers at the Texas facility.

“I remain greatly indebted to Texas for saving countless lives with organ donation and so want to help it remain at the world’s forefront,” he said Saturday. “This is important for Texas, the United States and all of us around the world since we learn so much from the brilliant doctors and scientists here.”

But the medical school would likely not be able to work with the South Korean lab’s cloned embryonic stem cell lines. Such cloning is legal in Texas, despite lawmakers recent consideration of bills that would ban human cloning and the use of state money to destroy human embryos.

However, much of Baylor’s research is federally funded, and government money can only be used on embryonic stem cell lines created years ago.

Dr. William Brinkley, a Baylor scientist and administrator, said it is likely that Baylor will work with Hwang’s lab on its research with mice.

The creation of a Stem Cell Regenerative Medicine Center at Baylor was announced on Saturday. A similar center is already housed at the University of Texas Health Science Center.

Research into embryonic stem cells — which can morph into all kinds of human tissue, providing possible treatments for Parkinson’s disease, diabetes and spinal cord injuries — has ignited a new right-to-life battle.

Opponents, including President Bush, argue that retrieving stem cells from human embryos, which are destroyed in the process, is tantamount to murder. Bush has threatened to veto a bill in Congress that would lift restrictions on federal money for embryonic stem cell research.

And although the administration does not bar private or state funding of such projects, U.S. researchers say a lack of federal support is severely hampering their efforts.

Houston’s medical center is an oasis of support for the proponents who gathered this weekend. They say the embryos largely come from fertility clinics, where the unused ones would be destroyed anyway, and that the potential benefits to people suffering from disease and injury are vast.

The summit ended Sunday.

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Information from: Houston Chronicle
June 12, 2005 – 1:29 p.m. Copyright 2005, The Associated Press.