When it comes to cloning, all anyone can talk about lately -- and understandably so -- is recently disgraced South Korean scientist Hwang Woo-suk. One of "Time" magazine's most influential people of 2004 could prove to be one of the most influential people of 2006, too -- but in ways he never intended.
Hwang, whose cloning claims have been unraveling in recent weeks, has been exposed as a liar. At first, he delusionally thought he could save himself from public disgrace, trying to talk his way out of revelations about unethical egg-procurement practices. But soon we learned that he faked research, too -- even though he tried to claim innocence and cry sabotage. And before 2005's end we learned that in his most celebrated "success," Mr. Stem Cell had never, in fact, created any embryonic stem cells from cloned embryos.
This is actually good news in one sense. Cloning -- even under frequently used euphemisms: Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer, Therapeutic Cloning, and simply "stem cell research" -- would be a giant leap for mankind, and not a good one. To create a life in order to destroy it, as so-called therapeutic cloning would do, is a brave new world for us. A world that, although some states even here have already invested money in pursuing, we have not quite arrived at. Phew.
For the medical community, public-policy makers and investors this is a perfect moment for a collective deep breath, considering these Hwang revelations. (Investors are sometimes you and me in states where such research has been given public funding, including California, Massachusetts and New Jersey). It's a perfect moment for everyone to start to really pay attention. And to consider that perhaps the road currently less traveled, less reported on and less invested in may be the one to go down with a new enthusiasm.
The aforementioned road involves alternatives to embryonic stem cell research and cloning, namely adult and umbilical cord stem cell research. Hawaiian singer Don Ho, who was suffering from a weakened heart muscle, says that he could barely walk, never mind sing. Ho underwent an experimental stem cell surgery in Thailand in early December. "I'm feeling terrific, 100 percent better," Ho told the Associated Press in a pre-Christmas interview.
The procedure involves multiplying stem cells taken from the patient's blood and injecting them in the heart. The idea is to strengthen the heart muscles. The procedure, which was developed by a professor at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, is not currently approved for use in the United States.
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