Sunday, May 21, 2006

Hwang saga: patents still a sore point

Ohmynews suggests that patent theft is still an issue in the stem cell saga: The other key point for Hwang's fans is their demand to "protect the patents," which they generally aim at Gerald Schatten, the University of Pittsburgh scientist who collaborated closely with Hwang. Schatten is said to be stealing the cloning technology developed in Hwang's lab.

Of relevance to CIRM's discussion about the protection offered by their standards, ohmynews also notes:

"Dr. Hwang [Woo-suk]'s work had never been done before," points out Dr. Lee Chang-kyu, an animal cloning expert who was named as a co-author of the discredited 2005 Science paper, though he took no direct role in the human work. "So, we were ahead of the regulations."

Lee is being either naive or a little disingenuous, because Korean civil society was quite vocal about the dangerous possibilities of genetic technology several years earlier. A formal Institutional Review Board system went into operation in 1995, mostly to cover clinical trials of pharmaceuticals. The Korean Bioethics Association issued a firm statement of concern about cloning in 1999, and called for formal government regulation; in response to the 2004 publication that brought Hwang global fame, it immediately complained, in a letter to Science, that the research should have been subject to more review, especially in light of the "Bioethics and Biosafety Act" that had recently been passed but had not yet gone into effect.

Of the egg donation issue:

For a while in 2005, it became quite impossible to express criticism. That space, however, is opening up again, and on all of the formerly active fronts. Korean Womenlink, an organization of 15,000 members, has taken the lead with the Korea Women's Association United (KWAU) coalition in suing on behalf of women who have fallen ill after supplying eggs.

Of the timescale issue:

The claim that Hwang's research is vital for the economic future of the nation has become the mantra of the "Hwang-ppa" or "Hwang fans." This is something of a change in emphasis: They used to focus on promises of cures. Nowadays, however, as a journalist said, "we are all experts on stem cells," and Hwang's supporters are as likely as anyone to suggest that cures are a long way off.


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