Leading cloning scientists in Seoul for "secret experiments"

Seoul (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The first cloned dog was born on April 24 in Seoul, but the announcement was made only today. Snuppy, short for "Seoul National University puppy", is the clone of an Afghan hound (using the same technique that led to the creation of Dolly the sheep) and was created by Professor Hwang's team.

Prof Woo-Suk Hwang and his team of researchers have been in the spotlight in the last few months for cloning embryonic stem cells, ostensibly for therapeutic purposes.

According to Professor Hwang, cloning dogs can help "advance work on combating diseases by therapeutic cloning".

Foremost cloning scientists from South Korea, the United Kingdom and the United States met yesterday in Seoul to launch seven days of experiments on the treatment of incurable diseases. The group is coordinated by Prof. Hwang Woo-suk of the State University of Seoul, Gerald Schatten of Pittsburgh University in the USA and Ian Wilmut, the "father" of the sheep "Dolly", of the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh. No details have been released about the experiments, which will be completed by Wednesday next week. According to Schatten, they are a milestone in the treatment of certain diseases, bringing together research on cloning and stem cells. In a study published in May, Hwang and Schatten announced that they had produced stem cells for therapeutic use.

Prof. Hwang's team has made significant steps forward even in the field of xenotransplants (organ transplants from animals to men or from one species to another). The team has managed to prevent the rejection of the organs of pigs transplanted in monkeys, paving the way for the use of animal organs and cells in human beings to treat illnesses like Parkinson's Disease and diabetes.

Mgr Nicholas Cheong Jin-suk, Seoul Archbishop, has repeatedly stated his opposition to stem cell research: the Korean Church is not against stem cell research per se, but it is against embryonic stem cell research because embryos are held to be already human life. "Professor Hwang's work carries serious repercussions, because it hurts life even if it is to find cures for incurable diseases," said the Archbishop in a statement issued some weeks ago.

In an opinion poll posted on the web by the Catholic Times a Korean Catholic newspaper, and by the Goodnews, a Catholic internet gateway, 66% of internauts said they are against the embryonic stem cell research undertaken by Prof. Hwang. Even 58% of those interviewed by Daum, one of the largest Korean web portals, declared they are against stem cell research.

However, a survey carried out by Christian Today, the Protestant paper, returned an opposite verdict, with a percentage of 61% of those interviewed in five large Protestant parishes in Seoul declaring themselves in favour of Prof. Hwang's research.