Saturday, January 14, 2006

Shanghai Daily on stem cells: As the competition heats up, we should expect more and more public relations gimmicks.

Shanghai Daily on Jan. 14, 2006:

The race has become all the more dramatic since the leading researcher, the US, dropped out, owing to the influence of religion on politics (although the state of California has decided not to miss out, and recently approved a US$3 billion subsidy for embryonic stem cell research).

Whoever wins will have added the equivalent of a Saudi oil field to their economy.

But, although anyone can win, science at this level is never a "eureka" event, with some single breakthrough suddenly ending the race.

Embedded in the larger race are many smaller ones, which jostle for early, impressive results.

In May 2005, Hwang's research center in Seoul reported the first major achievement. They claimed they had developed a technique whereby new, perfect stem cells could be cloned from ordinary ones.

This was big news. More importantly, the South Koreans did a common thing these days: They claimed patent rights over the process.

It almost looked for a moment as though South Korea would become a world superpower in health matters.

We now know that the Seoul researchers made up the whole thing.

An investigation by a Seoul National University investigative panel has concluded that the "cloned" stem cells were really created by test-tube fertilizations.

Why, then, did they place their reputations and careers in jeopardy?

Medical research has always faced many challenges, even when the scientific quest was simply one of discovery.

Now, the challenges are complicated by politics, market forces, and national interests.

With stem cell research, huge fortunes depend on which group takes the lead, wherever their laboratory is located.

As the competition heats up, we should expect more and more public relations gimmicks.


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